Practical, plus high-tech solutions can ease California’s water crisis

Lawmakers and supporters stand on the levee above the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District canal in 2014 to announce legislation to build the Sites Reservoir.
Lawmakers and supporters stand on the levee above the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District canal in 2014 to announce legislation to build the Sites Reservoir. Sacramento Bee file

The impact of California’s water policies is far-reaching. More than just a question of the length of showers, they directly contribute to high unemployment and poverty. The solution to our water crisis can boost employment and reduce poverty – and it’s high time we get practical about it.

In the last 15 years, I have traveled to 54 of California’s 58 counties. It is heartbreaking to see the effects of our policies in places such as East Porterville, where residents go without water, or the divisions that these policies cause over property rights, reservoirs and dams – including pitting environmentalists against farmers and north against south.

Resolving the water crisis requires us to look beyond partisan fights over the cause of the drought. Whether or not you believe human activity affects our climate, we still need a plan for the 15 million people beyond what our water infrastructure was designed to serve and to prepare for the millions more expected to come in the years ahead.

The resolution of the water crisis can actually be quite simple if we are as practical as Singapore, a world leader in water technology. When I went to summer law school there in 1986, I was impressed by how the tiny nation island went about solving its problems. Only 277 square miles and surrounded by ocean and near the equator, Singapore has severely limited freshwater sources.

It anticipated a population boom and now leads the world in water recycling technology, including capturing rainfall not just on protected land but on buildings and roads, as well as desalination plants and water recycling. Singapore also partnered with neighboring Malaysia (with whom it sometimes had sharp disagreements) and built a dam to increase water supplies for Singapore.

California should be the high-tech water capital of the world. Rather than build high-speed rail, we should allocate funds to retrieve storm water from our roads and have the water pumped to recycling stations. Within 10 years, no lawn in California should be watered with anything but recycled water.

To ease unemployment and the water crisis, our aging municipal water pipes should be replaced. Those older pipes, by many estimates, leak as much water as all of the state’s residential use. Los Angeles alone has more than $1 billion in deferred maintenance. Since we have a plan to measure, monitor and regulate all of California’s groundwater, shouldn’t we fix our pipes? That would create shovel-ready jobs and could be completed within four years.

Our forests can provide a solution as well. They are overgrown and present a fire danger, but a policy that allows thinning of trees would create dramatic increases in runoff – some say enough to feed the Central Valley. Those are shovel-ready jobs as well.

We should also build desalination plants (70 percent of Californians live within 30 miles of the ocean) and more reservoirs, including the long awaited Sites Reservoir.

Indeed, there are many practical solutions to our water crisis. For our future, we should learn from the rest of the world, put our differences aside and get to work.

Thomas G. Del Beccaro, a former chairman of California Republican Party, is a candidate for U.S. Senate. He can be contacted at