Floor Remarks – California’s Water Crisis

Mar 22, 2023

Click here to watch the full speech.

“Madam Speaker, we have had a series of very heavy storms in California. We have gotten a lot of water, and I wanted to take a moment to talk about what is happening to that water. This is a photo I took a few days ago at the Folsom Dam; 20,000 cubic feet is being released per second where it is sent on its way to the Pacific Ocean. That staggering amount of water is not available to California farmers, businesses, or residents. Meanwhile, State-sponsored billboards tell people to put a bucket in their shower so they can save that water for gardening. Restaurants are prohibited from serving their customers drinking water unless the customer specifically asks for it.

Here are some of the other emergency drought restrictions that have been in effect: Turn off decorative water fountains. Use an automatic shutoff nozzle on your water hose. Use a broom, not water to clean sidewalks and driveways. Commercial, industrial, and institutional decorative grass should not be watered; same for the common areas in homeowner associations. Down here you can see all the enforcement, all the penalties if you don’t follow this. It says here, for local jurisdictions, for urban water suppliers, if needed, exercise authority to adopt more stringent local conservation measures. Some local authorities have done just that. The Las Virgenes Municipal Water District began sending government employees into residents’ homes to install flow restrictors. Once installed, you are also barred from watering anything outside, and you are not able to use two appliances needing water at once. One resident said: ‘‘You have to take what’s called a Navy shower … 2 minutes. …’’ In Los Angeles, they have the water police, where municipalities pay individuals to drive around and check for leaky swimming pools, green lawns, or other signs of water use.

This is just the beginning. In 2018, the California Legislature adopted a statewide limit of 55 gallons of indoor water use per person per day; so a single person living alone can’t take a shower and do a load of laundry in the same day. Yet, last year, the legislature decided even this was too generous and reduced the allotted water to 42 gallons per day. Then, of course, there is the impact on farmers. For both 2021 and 2022, surface water deliveries dropped by 43 percent. An estimated 752,000 acres lay idle in 2022. The general manager of the Glenn- Colusa Irrigation District said: ‘‘We typically plant 100,000 acres of rice in our district. And this last year we planted 1,000 acres. It is just a massive, massive impact,’’ he said. As a result, $1.7 billion in crop revenues were lost in 2022, and an estimated 19,400 jobs.

These drastic sacrifices have been required of Californians because of a supposed lack of water. We prayed for rain, and then the rain comes, and this happens. Here is the overall impact of this image and others like it throughout the State. So far this year, October through mid-March, the net outflow, this is after pumping, from the delta into the San Francisco Bay is 11.6 million acre-feet. Meanwhile, the State has only pumped 1.0 million acre-feet into the California Aqueduct, and the Federal Bureau of Reclamation has only pumped 826,000 acre-feet into the Delta Mendota Canal. With this record precipitation, that means 13 percent of delta outflows have been captured. The rest is squandered. If we were able to capture this water, we wouldn’t have to worry about floods, and we wouldn’t have to worry about droughts. Communities wouldn’t be put at risk. Farmers wouldn’t have to fallow their fields. Citizens wouldn’t have to take shorter showers.

The reason we aren’t capturing it isn’t because this water is somehow inherently elusive. It is because there is simply no place to put it. California has not seen a new water storage project in at least 30 years, despite many promising potential projects that have been in the planning stages since the 1950s. In 2014, California voters said enough is enough and passed a $7.5 billion water bond. Build water storage, the voters said. Yet, nothing has been built. In the 9 years since, no significant project has materialized. Endless litigation, mind-numbing bureaucracy and, most of all, a lack of political will have been a recipe for inaction. The executive director of the most significant project, Sites Reservoir, said: My experience is that for every 1 year of construction, you have about 3 years of permitting.

It doesn’t need to be this way. The massive Folsom Dam, of which this is the auxiliary spillway, holds about a million acre-feet of water and took less than a decade in the late 1940s and early 1950s to build. In addition to failing to build any new in-stream or off-stream reservoirs, California has also rejected all but one proposed desalination plant, and is taking advantage of a small fraction of the potential for water treatment. Even now, amidst the current record precipitation, our State and Federal pumps still aren’t operating at full capacity.

In short, this uniquely Californian absurdity of alternating or even simultaneous floods and droughts is not some inevitable by-product of our climate or geography. It is the direct product of political failure. We have more than enough tools at our disposal to have a sustainable, secure supply of water for all users. This image needs to be a wake-up call for California’s leaders at the State and Federal level. No more excuses. Let’s solve this problem now. Let’s end this era of floods and droughts, of shorter showers, and fallow fields. Let’s liberate our constituents from this regime of enforced scarcity and give Californians the abundant supply of water they deserve.

This is California’s problem, but it affects the entire country. California agriculture feeds the Nation and the world, and we could never have become the State that we are, or at least once were, a State that used to lead the country in so many good ways, without the dams, aqueducts, pipes, tunnels, canals, plants, pumping stations built by previous generations. We need to summon the can-do spirit of our forebearers, and we don’t even need their ingenuity. We just need basic competence. Effective water management was indispensable to California’s 20th century rise and is just as indispensable to reversing its 21st century decline.”

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