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Is California doing all it can to address the drought?

In recent weeks, Governor Jerry Brown, Senator Diane Feinstein, President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have called on Californians to do all they can do to address the current severe drought. It’s a critically important call, as water is the mainstay of California’s economy.  Even the recent rainfall won’t make a dent in this state’s need for reliable water supply and infrastructure.

“Doing all we can” isn’t a technological challenge, as Orange County has proven with its many water supply innovations. It’s a political challenge.  To do all we can to reduce the impact of this and future droughts, California must find the will to dedicate the necessary funds and overcome over-regulation and over-litigation.

We have done it before. Orange County’s Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS), the world’s largest plant for treating wastewater for beneficial re-use, sailed through California’s tough environmental review process, secured funding and wasn’t slowed by litigation. As a result, 14 billion gallons of highly treated wastewater already have been used to recharge the county’s vast groundwater basin.

Unfortunately, the efficient GWRS process isn’t the norm. For example, Poseidon Resource’s efforts to build an ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach could be providing 50 million gallons of fresh water daily, but its quest for regulatory approvals has already taken eight years.  And the lawsuits haven’t even begun. Besides the obvious benefit a continuous, drought-impervious supply of fresh water, the Poseidon plant would contribute several hundred million dollars of economic stimulus to the local economy and provide more than 2,000 construction and 322 permanent jobs.

Another example of Orange County being stymied in its efforts to “do all it can” is Santa Margarita Water District’s pursuit of the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project.  With a service area that lacks a bountiful groundwater basin like North County, SMWD must vigorously pursue supply to ensure reliability.  The Cadiz Project offers the district an opportunity to conserve billions of gallons of water that is now being lost to high salinity in the Mojave Desert to create a new, reliable water source.

The Cadiz project could create 5,900 jobs and nearly $1 billion in economic activity during its construction, as well as $6 billion in ratepayer benefits over its 50-year life. Following a thorough environmental review that showed the project would have no significant impact on desert resources, it was approved by the SMWD Board and the County of San Bernardino in 2012. Despite this clean bill of health, construction hasn’t begun because of litigation. Legislators have shown some concern about litigation’s negative impact on a secure water supply and our economic vitality, but have not yet created a solution, leaving water providers to fight through the roadblocks.

And those roadblocks occur as well for clean Orange County groundwater. Assemblyman Tom Daly recently introduced AB 2712—a bill that would temper Orange County Water District’s 10-year failed litigation strategy, wasting time and money, and instead give business a fair opportunity to efficiently clean up potential contamination without more lawsuits and delays.

A final example of regulation and litigation limiting a water supply solution is the current campaign challenging the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and its twin-tunnel water conveyance system.  Scientists and environmentalists agree that something must be done to protect the Sacramento Delta environment and stabilize its essential water deliveries. The BDCP, which was borne out of more than seven years of state and federal analysis and collaboration, would do both.

Without it, Southern California could lose up to one-third of its water supply and face much higher rates, which is why independent economists have shown it could protect ratepayers from multi-billion-dollar impacts. Orange County’s water and business leaders stand in near-unanimous support of the BDCP, yet some are doing all they can to undermine it before its environmental review is even completed.

OCBC long ago designated water supply reliability as one of its core issues because our economy, and the very lives of the county’s residents, is dependent on reliable water. Join us in asking California’s leadership to do all they can to remove excessive regulatory and legal roadblocks that keep California from developing a truly drought-tolerant economy.

Originally published in Fox & Hounds March 11, 2014


Posted on March 21, 2014


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