The Public Policy Institute of California released a report last month highlighting the link between water and California's economy, and calling for smarter investment and better management of our water system. The California Water Foundation strongly agrees and is focused on developing new technologies and approaches to increasing water supply reliability and moving California beyond the traditional debates over water.
California has a long history of leaders who have pushed innovation and technology to a whole new level to move our state and the world forward. From high-tech to clean-tech to medical advances, California is the land of innovation and invention.
It's time we harness that entrepreneurial spirit and apply it to one of the critical areas facing California and its economy: a sustainable water supply.
There are some who are already paving the way with new technologies and approaches to water management that move us beyond the same, tired political debates.
For example, in the Bay Area, Imagine H2O hosts a business plan competition and accelerator program that creates a path-to-market opportunity for entrepreneurs with innovative water solutions. The East Bay Municipal Utility District recently launched a pilot project with WaterSmart Software, a former Imagine H2O prize winner. This unique cloud-based service provides residential customers with simple ways to track their water use, compare themselves to their neighbors, and, in turn, conserve water and save money.
In Southern California, the Claremont Colleges are studying the feasibility of using recycled water for campus irrigation. This project will help determine if large-scale developments can go "off the grid" for their landscape water uses.
And in the Central Valley, the Kings River Conservation District is initiating a pilot project utilizing satellite technology to measure groundwater levels within the Kings groundwater basin daily, instead of twice annually, providing groundwater managers with additional information to manage this resource.
These innovative leaders are trying to lead the way with new ideas to change water management in California so that we can meet our state's 21st century challenges, such as population increases, aging infrastructure and climate change. These types of innovations will be necessary to ensure there is water to fuel the state's economy, particularly in the water-poor south.
Without new approaches to the way California manages water, the gap between supply and demand could reach a staggering shortfall of 5 million acre-feet annually, the equivalent of the annual water use of eight cities the size of Los Angeles.
This doesn't take into account a prolonged drought, like the one that just ended in Australia after a decade. The economic impact of such a drought in California would near $500 billion and result in a loss of more than 100,000 jobs.
The good news is that significant opportunity exists to address California's water issues, but it will take a different approach and a new way of thinking. Much time and effort is spent fighting the same fights over water that have been fought for years. Instead we could focus on investments that will generate at least 6 million acre-feet of water each year such as multi-benefit projects that advance water use efficiency, new local supplies such as stormwater capture and improved management of groundwater supplies.
California's elected officials, water interests and business leaders need to come together to invest in new technologies and policies that will help modernize our approach to water. Only then will we be able to ensure that we have enough water to meet the needs of a 21st century economy and environment.