The recent drought was long, hot, and difficult, and it brought a host of challenges to the state’s water suppliers. Yet California’s urban areas came through the ordeal fairly well, thanks to preparations since the last major drought. Last week a panel of urban water experts explored the various tools California’s cities, suburbs, and the state used to manage water over the past five years. The lessons learned can help us prepare for future droughts.
The panelists at the Sacramento event were David Mitchell of M.Cubed and a co-author of the new PPIC report Building Drought Resilience in California’s Cities and Suburbs; Wade Crowfoot, CEO of the Water Foundation; Thomas Esqueda, public utilities director for the City of Fresno, and Rosemary Menard, water director for the City of Santa Cruz. The panel was moderated by Ellen Hanak, the PPIC Water Policy Center director.
“Water suppliers build resiliency through their water supply investments, which reduce the chance of shortages developing during a drought, as well as through drought contingency plans,” said Mitchell in his presentation on the new report’s key findings. “Both are key to understanding a region’s resiliency to drought.” Around $20 billion has been invested since 1992 in urban drought resiliency, he noted.
Some key takeaways from the event:
- The state’s conservation mandate resulted in strong water savings. But it threw a wrench into local drought planning and created uncertainty about state and local roles in managing drought going forward.
- While the urban economy performed well over the course of the drought, most water suppliers were not prepared for the fiscal impacts.
- Regular communication with water users is essential to get support for conservation, new investments, and changes to rates.
- Regional cooperation is much more common among the state’s water utilities than it was in past droughts, which has helped make urban areas more resilient.
- Smaller, rural communities are still struggling to recover from the drought’s effects. It will take a concerted effort to improve their ability to withstand drought and address water quality problems.
Read the report Building Drought Resilience in California’s Cities and Suburbs (June 2017)
Read California’s Water: Water for Cities (from the California’s Water briefing kit, October 2016)
Visit the PPIC Water Policy Center’s drought resource page