Soapbox

We can better deal with drought with more data

A local TV cameraman films the release of water at Folsom Dam on March 7.
A local TV cameraman films the release of water at Folsom Dam on March 7. mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

When Californians want to buy a car, data on fuel efficiency, safety, performance and virtually every factoid imaginable are just a quick online search away. However, California’s water managers have to do extensive research just to piece together the basic facts.

By making California’s existing water data open, transparent and publicly accessible, we could significantly improve our drought resilience. The problem isn’t a lack of information so much as a lack of accessible, user-friendly data.

That’s why Assembly Bill 1755 is so important. Scheduled to go before the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee on Tuesday, the legislation will leverage California’s technological might to integrate existing data on reservoirs, stream flows, fish populations, water rights, aquifer levels and more into a user-friendly and publicly accessible website. The bill would develop open data protocols and encourage public-private partnerships to bring together the best available technology.

Today, these important data are tracked using various methods and stored in a hodgepodge of places. What’s worse, the current system ignores technological advances. In the most severe drought in California’s history, the home of Silicon Valley manages its water data with the computing power of a pencil sharpener.

Only the largest farmers and water agencies have the resources to navigate this complex process. With open and transparent data, water would be better managed by all parties and get where it’s needed faster.

First, it would help ensure people are not without water during severe droughts. Second, it would allow decision makers to better address our water needs while providing incentives for conservation and innovation. Third, it will help officials make more informed decisions to protect fish and wildlife.

Bottom line, better data will help us reduce waste, providing more water throughout the system. If California is going to prosper in a 21st century defined by climate change, it’s going to need to do a much better job managing and measuring its water use. For our economy and our environment, it’s time to open the spigot on California water data.

Bill Dodd, a Napa Democrat, represents the 4th Assembly District and can be contacted at assemblymember.dodd@assembly.ca.gov.

Jim Wunderman is president and CEO of the Bay Area Council and can be contacted at jim@bayareacouncil.org.

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