Los Gatos Weekly Times
Panel discusses solutions to California's `climate whiplash'
A few weeks ago, the Center for California Real Estate (CCRE), hosted a virtual panel with water experts discussing solutions for housing and future development. Led by California Association of Realtors CEO John Sebree, the panel included David Eggerton, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, Karla Nemeth, executive director of the California Department of Water Resources, Erik Porse, director of the California Institute for Water Resources, and Jeff Schroeder, senior vice president of Land Acquisition and Planning for Ponderosa Homes.
It was noted that in a matter of months, California went from the three driest years on record to some of the wettest weeks in recent history. “We’ve had these winter rains, which were exceptional, and now, we’re entering wildfire season, so that’s when we get whiplash,” explained Sebree.
This “climate whiplash” presents challenges for state and local leaders to manage the water supply,
Porse said California is moving into the 21st century from a wet period to significant periods of drought. Weather patterns are longer and likely to become more extreme. The state’s 19th century infrastructure is not attuned to switching quickly. More funding investments for water infrastructure are needed to provide a reprieve to an old system embattled by intensifying weather patterns.
Increasingly high temperatures are creating a new demand for available water because after the rains, more water evaporates into the atmosphere than sinks into the dry ground. “When we start planning for our future, we need to anticipate that if you have a lawn, it’s going to use even more water than it does today and into the future, just to keep it with the status quo,” said Nemeth.
Nemeth said Governor Newsom’s strategy is one of adapting to a hotter, drier future, and having a water supply that is climate resilient and resilient to disruption. “Climate is pushing us to much more significant investments in water infrastructure, water use efficiency just to maintain what we have.”
The panelists discussed the one water concept, recycling surface water and producing it to drinking water standards, and investing in desalination, which has a high energy cost. They underlined the need to be proactive, to invest and improve technology.
To avoid repeating mistakes from the past, water management solutions must incorporate naturebased solutions to maximize water use efficiency. “We need nature-based solutions in the 21st century,” stressed Porse.
Schroeder said the problem doesn’t seem to have caught up yet with the state’s leadership. He mentioned the Sites Reservoir Project is promising but has been caught up in litigation.
Eggerton said the California legislature has made strides in expedited permitting for water infrastructure. He said the Sites project is a part of the solution and mentioned that the project’s environmental review process may conclude this summer.
Nemeth emphasized the need to help legislators understand the importance of these projects. There is work to do with existing infrastructures, which are old and stressed beyond their capabilities. Hundreds of miles of levee systems and canals have subsided so much that they are not providing the needed protection from flooding and capacity to move water.
The panel noted that the impacts of climate change exacerbate challenging policy decisions where some may benefit while others sacrifice. An engaged, educated public is essential for continued water conservation efforts.
“What’s challenging is we’re going to have to do everything, and while resilience looks different in different communities across the state, my main message is we have to have each other’s backs.… We need to spend less time fighting and spend more time coming together with a variety of support mechanisms. All of it is going to be expensive and require funding,” said Nemeth.