California has suffered from extreme droughts for years now – but the state didn’t capitalize on a series of heavy storms in late 2022 and early 2023 that brought trillions of gallons of rainwater to the state. Governor Gavin Newsom has received criticism for this from both sides of the aisle, and it remains to be seen how the state will prioritize water infrastructure moving forward.
According to the FOX Forecast Center, the heavy storms plaguing California since late December of 2022 brought an estimated 32 trillion gallons of rainwater to the state. Information from the U.S. Geological Survey suggests that this amount could supply the state’s agricultural, industrial, and residential needs for at least a decade if it were to be stored in reservoirs. But only about 5 to 6 percent of the incoming water was captured, with about 95 percent of the rainwater getting flushed out to sea instead. This is because of environmental restrictions put in place to protect endangered fish species in California’s Central Valley, such as the Delta smelt.
Governor Newsom Under Fire
The missed opportunity to use rainwater to ease California’s drought problems drew criticism from both sides of the aisle. U.S. Representative Jim Costa (D-Fresno) wrote a letter to Newsom calling on state and federal agencies to maximize water pumping, arguing that this action would have little impact on endangered species. Costa encouraged the state to use “dynamic” strategies to respond faster to changing weather patterns and conditions like those posed by the heavy storms.
Assemblyman Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield) wrote another letter to Newsom in January. “Farmers need water to save for the coming dry months,” he wrote, “in order to grow the food we eat, and communities need water for homes and businesses.”
Politicians on both sides are encouraging the state to build new water reservoirs as an alternative to encouraging citizens to conserve as much water as they can. Most of California’s water dams and reservoirs were built between the 1940s and 1960s. In 2014, the state received billions to fund new water storage projects, but so far, none have been completed.
Desalination: A Possible Solution
Some politicians are encouraging California to look toward new solutions, such as desalination plants, which are used in other desert climates around the world, like Dubai. State Assemblyman Bill Essayli (R-Corona) said that “the fundamental problem is that there’s no appetite or will to actually solve this issue and deal with the environmental groups that are relentless in their opposition to any water storage infrastructure.” He called on Governor Newsom to reform the California Environmental Quality Act and streamline the approval process of new water reservoir projects.
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