Cuts to drought response in California budget shortchange resilience, access to water

Governor Brown’s revised state budget axed more than $100 in funding for drought response. This is a shortsighted response to what could very well be an ongoing problem of weather extremes–both droughts and storms that severely test the state’s water infrastructure, agricultural sector, and overall climate resilience.

According to a report in the San Jose Mercury News , a proposed budget increase of $179 million was reduced to $63 million, as a result of the five-year drought’s official “end” in April.

Much of the smaller increase will go to CalFire, which faces the fire risk of more than 100 million dead trees in the Sierra Nevada, and to helping with emergency water supplies in Central Valley towns which lost water wells to the drought. There will also be about $12 million earmarked for inspections at large dams in California and to beef up emergency plans and flood maps in order to prepare for events similar to the Oroville Dam emergency earlier this year.


But deep cuts in drought management funds imperil the kind of broad climate-focused planning that the state needs to do to prepare for a probable future of increasing “drought or deluge” weather patterns. Funding ought to be retained to investigate and establish best practices for water conservation and efficiency, especially while the effects of five years of drought are still fresh in the public mind.

Moreover, long range planning must be rooted in principles of environmental justice. Water is a human right, and scarce resources must go first to the people who will use it for basic human needs–drinking and sanitation.

We call for California to go into long-term climate resilience, conservation, and efficiency studies with an eye to making these practices the cornerstone of a sustainable California water system–not the controversial Delta Tunnels project. We agree with Executive Director of Restore the Delta Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla that “the only way to guarantee a sustainable future for California is to plan for prolonged droughts punctuated by cycles of flood and to create water efficiency projects at the local level. This was done in Australia when they abandoned their large pipeline project for local water conservation systems. The Delta tunnels will not serve Californians during periods of drought, or during flood when waters are filled with sediment.”

Long-term drought will be back–it’s not “if” but “when.” When California again goes years with rainfall and snowpack far below necessary levels, systems built on efficiency and conservation can defend drinking water and public health by ensuring that existing water supplies are protected and directed where they are most needed: to drinking water, sanitation, the management of our fisheries, environmentally-appropriate agriculture, and the preservation of our environment.

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