NATIONAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL
Water scarcity has long been a fact of life across much of the southwestern United States. People have ingeniously adapted to this reality for centuries, from the irrigation structures built by the Hohokam people nearly a millennium ago to some of the largest concrete structures on earth erected during the dam-building era of the New Deal. In the face of new and mounting water supply and overuse challenges (or inefficiencies), the spirit of innovation must carry on. Changing climate patterns, growing populations, and over-tapped aquifer and river systems call for bold strategies to meet water supply needs for this region. This paper identifies five urban water agencies in California with ambitious plans to reduce or eliminate its use of imported water from the oversubscribed Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta and Colorado River systems in favor of sustainable, local water supplies. Each of these five water agencies will shrink its dependence on the Bay-Delta and Colorado River systems between 35 percent and 100 percent by 2035, through investments in water conservation, recycling, urban rainwater and stormwater harvesting, and better groundwater management.
These agencies are leading the way in creating reliable water supplies for their customers by reducing the risk of future water supply shortages from the Bay-Delta and Colorado River. Investing in local water supply and demand solutions will allow these water agencies to:
- save money
- create local jobs and improve the local economy
- reduce energy demand and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with transporting water long distances
- clean up groundwater aquifers
- reduce urban runoff
- improve coastal water quality
These effective and affordable solutions, such as water recycling and conservation, address the complex water challenges facing the Bay-Delta—for two-thirds of Californians—as well as the Colorado River. They also generate benefits associated with local water supply investments.
California is currently developing its own long-term water management plan called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which aims to improve the reliability of the state’s water supplies while restoring the Bay-Delta estuary. A diverse coalition of water districts and municipalities, business groups, local elected officials, and environmental groups have urged California to follow the lead of the five water agencies highlighted here by investing in sustainable, local water supply solutions.
While adopting ambitious water management plans is an important first step toward decreasing water demand and increasing water supply reliability, implementation will be the key to successful environmental and economic outcomes. And financial and technical support for local water supply solutions from state and federal agencies will be essential to making increased investment in these sustainable water supply tools a reality.
About the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
“NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is a national nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Montana, and Beijing.”