Flooding shows the need for storage


As Californians struggled to deal with a grueling drought that has led to water rationing and other extreme water-conservation measures, Mother Nature has this week intervened with an atmospheric river that has led to massive rainfalls and flooding — especially up north.

This cycle of drought and flooding is nothing new. “California summers were characterized by the coughing in the pipes that meant the well was dry, and California winters by all-night watches on rivers about to crest,” wrote Joan Didion in her 1977 essay, “Holy Water.”

Unfortunately, California has left itself dependent on the weather (or climate, if you prefer) because it hasn’t built significant water infrastructure since the time that essay was published — when the state had roughly 18 million fewer residents.

Some environmentalists argue against building water storage when there’s little rain, but they only are correct if it doesn’t rain again.

History suggests the rains will always come. If California expands its storage capacity with reservoirs, off-stream storage and groundwater banking, it will have enough water to get us through the dry spells.

The official government drought maps show that almost the entire state is facing some form of drought, but that the latest storm system has helped bolster reservoir levels. Most of our reservoirs were perilously empty, but after the latest storms Folsom is now at 74% of normal and Castaic is at 53% of normal. Those levels should rise after the next wave of expected storms.

Building infrastructure takes time. Instead of being content that we’ve dodged another water-shortage bullet, the state’s leaders need to follow through with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s water plan.

That means jump-starting water projects (Sites Reservoir and Temperance Flat) that have been on the drawing board for decades.

It also means quicker approval of desalination facilities (such as the proposal in Huntington Beach that the California Coastal Commission rejected) and water-recycling strategies. The state also needs to invest more heavily in rebuilding its aging levees to help protect communities threatened by floods.

The state needs to get serious about these strategies now.

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