Wilk: State bureaucrats stifling progress on water storage

Atmospheric rivers pounded our state last year. Scientists and politicians alike proclaimed an end to our protracted drought that left our fields fallow and our reservoirs depleted. Things were finally looking up for California and its water supply.

But, as much as last year’s wettest-on-record rainy season helped alleviate many of our dire supply problems, it also represented a missed opportunity of epic proportions; a missed opportunity we’ll likely pay for this coming summer as the 2018 rainy season has so far failed to deliver more than a fraction of our average rainfall.

That missed opportunity comes in the form of trillions of gallons of water, gallons that could have been collected, stored and used for years to come if only our state’s water storage infrastructure was adequate to collect it. But alas, it is not.

In fact, it isn’t even close. California hasn’t built a major water storage project since 1979 when the population was just about 23 million. Today, we have a population of nearly twice that living off the same water supply infrastructure. If only there was something that could be done…

The sad thing is there is something that can be done, and the people of this state took quick and decisive action four years ago to do it.

The Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014, known as Proposition 1, was passed overwhelmingly by California voters, authorizing $7.5 billion in bond money for water infrastructure projects. I co-authored the water bond as a way to remedy these issues during the height of the drought so that when a wet year finally did come, we’d be able to capture and store those trillions of gallons to float us through dry years to come.  

But it never happened. They sold the bonds, collected the money and that was it. Not a single dollar has been given to projects for increasing storage capacity and the billions designated for such projects continues to sit in the state’s bank account doing nothing to solve our problems and protect the availability of water for California.

Meanwhile, valuable rainwater continues to bypass our water storage facilities, running out to sea rather than our household taps and farmland. And, with the powerful effects of a La Niña system putting a damper on our winter this year, we’ll likely see our limited reserves depleted by the end of the summer; the drought will be back and all the restrictions and fees and other nuisances that come with it will be back too.

But it didn’t have to be this way. Last year’s winter dumped enough rain over the Golden State to last us close to a decade but thanks to the California Water Commission – the bureaucratic team tasked with implementing Proposition 1 – we collected only enough to last a year or two at the most.

The problem is that rather than follow the intent of Proposition 1 to immediately address our infrastructural shortcomings, bureaucrats at the Water Commission have put regulations in place that make the application process for these funds nearly impossible to navigate. For those who can figure it out, the Water Commission has applied ridiculous assessments of projects’ suitability to receive the bond money.

That’s why I penned a letter last week to the Water Commission admonishing them for their impossible application process, their lack of action and their inability to accurately assess the value and public benefit of the proposed projects.

This is not the first time I’ve called on the Water Commission to change its ways and act in the interest of the people. In 2016 I was compelled to do the same as their delayed allocation had already begun to cause concern, now two years later I again call on the Commission to get the money flowing so the water too can flow to our taps and our fields instead of straight to the ocean as it does now.

I invite you to join me in calling on the Water Commission to end their overly complex and restrictive allocation processes and to demand the timely distribution of funds to begin effectively storing future rainfall. The Commission can be reached at P.O. Box 942836 Sacramento, CA 95814 or by telephone at (916) 651-7501.

[Also published at KHTS website]