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As We See It: Drought survey should be a call to action

Santa Cruz Sentinel, 4/18/14

Californians finally agree on something. A Field Poll released this week shows 88 percent of those surveyed believe the state is facing a serious water shortage. Unfortunately, that's about all we agree on.

Facing a severe drought — 2013 had the least rainfall of any year since California became a state in 1850 — we are coming together to conserve like we've never conserved before in order to get through the crisis.

While short-term conservation measures are crucial, Californians must bite the bullet and come to grips with long-term solutions that may very well include desalination and more storage, which is often a polite way of saying build dams and reservoirs or increase the holding capacities of existing ones.

When it comes to how we got to this point and what needs to be done, California's age-old water wars begin to resurface. The state has always faced battles over water and if the survey makes anything clear, there is no agreement on how to solve the issue.

In the Central Valley, where agriculture is the lifeblood of the economy, 37 percent of those surveyed say more storage is needed. In the Bay Area, only 20 percent said storage is a problem.

When it comes to environmental regulations, such as limiting pumping from the Delta to protect salmon, smelt and other fish, state residents are again split. In the Central Valley, 62 percent said environmental rules should be waived, while only 36 percent of Bay Area residents and 49 percent of Los Angeles residents said such rules should be waived.

Along the Central Coast we are unique in that to some degree we control our own destiny. Southern California has the Colorado River Aqueduct, the Central Valley and Bay Area benefit from the Central Valley Project and the Hetch-Hetchy Aqueduct and the Mokelumne Aqueduct supply water to the Bay Area.

In Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, we depend heavily on the San Lorenzo and Carmel rivers, respectively. Those are our sources, and when they start to run dry, we're in trouble.

Like the rest of the state, however, we rarely agree on how to fix our problems and we end up with a flurry of short-term fixes: voluntary reductions followed by mandatory restrictions that fail to solve our problem, but instead allow us to limp along through another year. At some point we are going to run out of toilets to replace.

Conservation, education, awareness and technological advances all play a role in stretching our water supply, but they are not enough to meet our future needs. If water shortages only meant shorter showers and parched landscapes, we could all make do. But when water districts start to talk about denying water hook-ups to new businesses and projects, the need for additional water sources becomes much stronger.

Along the Central Coast, desalination projects are being considered in Santa Cruz and Monterey. The ugly three-letter word — dam — is not mentioned often, but increased water storage must be on the table as well.

Like the rest of California, the Central Coast needs to move forward with tangible solutions. No one is enjoying this drought, but it is driving home the point we need to take action.

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