Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, visited The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board last week to talk about the state’s water issues. Here are edited excerpts of the interview:
Q: What should California be doing about its water shortage?
A: We’ve taken a good look at the California Water Action Plan that the governor has put out, and I think he has all the right elements in there. To my mind, the next step is coming up with a strategic prioritization of funding for it. We need all those things the governor has laid out; we just can’t do them all simultaneously. And so the next harder step, of course, is laying out what are the priorities and what are we going to tackle first, because every region’s got its own idea of what’s a good project and everybody wants their project tackled first.
So, I think a good framework to start with is the 2009 Delta reform legislation package that laid out co-equal goals and said we’re going to build a more reliable water supply and a more sustainable, restored ecosystem. And those should be the co-equal goals that drive it. I think you look at the projects that can best do that.
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For my money, investment in the (Sacramento-San Joaquin) Delta is badly needed as a priority, because until we solve the water conveyance issue, more storage is not going to really be that beneficial. Until we get some handle on what we’re going to do on an ecosystem restoration plan, we’re not going to get much achievement there.
We’ve been spending about $100 million a year in the Delta for the last two decades, and there is no real plan in place. We’ve just sort of been throwing money at it. And not surprisingly, we’ve seen the situation get slightly worse every single year for the last two decades. And it’s really time for us to set some strategic goals.
How much restoration? How much are we going to save? Maybe we’re not going to target these species or this area. But those are tough choices, and instead we’ve just kind of thrown money at it like a shotgun and not really had any strategic goals. Those are the kind of things I think that really need to happen to make this governor’s plan actually turn it from a list of good, sound projects into a real go-forward strategic plan.
Q: Walk us through what some of the strategic goals might be.
A: I think you look at one of the real bottlenecks. And again I get back to the Delta, I think you need to figure out what is our conveyance plan going to be. Is it going to be the twin tunnels? Is it going to be existing through-Delta? Is it going to be getting off the Delta? Whatever? We need to kind of make a strategic choice there and stick to it and fund it and move forward, as opposed to just continuing to study the issue for decade after decade. And the same thing on the ecosystem side, too. I think those two need to go forward.
And that, I think, frankly has to happen first. Simultaneously, I think the groundwater piece is huge. Our chairman mentioned we probably can’t farm every inch of land like we have. And most of the experts are saying as the groundwater management plans shake out, we may lose somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of what’s currently being farmed. I don’t know if that’s accurate or not, but that feels like the kind of choices that would have to be made at some point, as we make the groundwater sustainable. But a lot of that depends, hopefully that’s on the lower end, but I think that’s if we fix some of the conveyance part. The way you make groundwater sustainable is by bringing in surface water to supplement it when you need it.