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World Water Day through a California Lens

Caitrin Chappelle March 22, 2018
People boating on river, peacefull nature scene

Happy World Water Day―a day that brings attention and, hopefully, action to some of the world’s most pressing water challenges. This year’s theme is “exploring nature-based solutions to the water challenges we face in the 21st century.” It’s a concept that shows the deep linkages among many water problems—and the need to tackle these problems jointly.

California’s complex array of water challenges make it something of a policy lab for trying out a “portfolio approach” that addresses issues in an integrated way. Although California has one of the world’s largest economies, the state faces many of the same water problems seen around the world. Too many communities don’t have access to safe drinking water. Some critical water infrastructure is in poor shape. The state’s ecosystems are in decline, with many aquatic species hovering near extinction. To complicate things, we have an extremely variable climate—so both droughts and floods are a reality Californians live with.

Our recent policy brief, Priorities for California’s Water, provides a road map for taking on some of these challenges. The report highlights linkages among key issues and points to integrated solutions that can bring multiple benefits—approaches that are especially important in light of the changing climate.

For example, wildlife-friendly farming can support ecosystems while maintaining the economic viability of farms. Cooperation on storing and releasing water from reservoirs can benefit fish while meeting downstream users’ needs. Investing in healthy watersheds can help protect drinking water supplies and reduce the risk of extreme wildfire. Flood protection projects that reconnect rivers to their floodplains can provide fish and wildlife habitat. By capturing and treating stormwater runoff, cities can improve water quality, augment their water supplies, and enhance wetlands or open space. Across California, there are promising examples of such approaches, but they are still the exception rather than the rule.

Here at the PPIC Water Policy Center, we could be accused of thinking every day is California Water Day. But we’re happy to be reminded that there’s a global effort to tackle critical water issues and growing understanding of the linkages among the world’s biggest water challenges. Finding solutions that can work in unison won’t happen overnight. It will take creative thinking and bold action from all quarters—water managers, governments, agricultural and urban water users, community and environmental advocates, business and scientific leaders. World Water Day reminds us we all live on the same blue planet and that solutions are within our reach.

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