In California turning on the tap is really no guarantee that water will flow. Unless something is done to upgrade and improve our water storage and delivery system, Californians will risk not having enough water for everyday activities and certainly not enough to sustain many of the state's key businesses. While the talk is on conveyance, the real issue should be additional storage. Without storage there is nothing to convey.
Thousands of workers may not be getting a paycheck simply because California has refused to develop and build a sustainable water infrastructure. Agricultural land — worth billions of dollars to our economy — is fallow, keeping workers from jobs that are essential for them to house, feed and clothe their families.
Harris Farms just announced it won't plant lettuce this year because there is no guarantee of water. They are not alone. The Central Valley, already home to some of the highest unemployment numbers in California, will absorb more people without a paycheck.
Our water woes, not a new problem, only seem to gain traction when there is a drought. The Central Valley is in a sense ground zero in the water debate.
Recently, Gov. Jerry Brown toured the state- — not to address the drought — but to push his spending plan. To our community, there is no greater priority than moving forward with a comprehensive water plan. A plan that will provide enough additional storage to guarantee reliable water sources to our agricultural lands and communities as well as to our manufacturing and high-tech industries. It really should be bigger than politics, but I fear it is not — at an affordable price.
The good news is we already have a water bond negotiated and passed by the Legislature in 2009. That plan included guaranteed money for additional storage as well as environmental concerns. The bad news: That bond has yet to be placed before the voters.
The question has become, what changes, if any, should there be to the bond passed in 2009? One of the most difficult aspects of the original bond debate was finding the balance between the demands of environmental groups and additional water storage. I fear any new negotiations will come at the expense of storage — a critical need for the Central Valley.
As of now, two of the legislative alternatives being discussed reduce water storage in the current bond. This is unacceptable — and a deal killer.
As for the governor's plan, water ranked relatively high in the governor's explanation of his early budget priorities. I would like to see a focus on issues that are crucial to the Central Valley such as additional storage. In fact, the largest appropriation the governor proposes would go to integrated regional water management programs (increasing regional self-reliance): $472.5 million.
Encouraging regional self-reliance is great. Using funds for local conservation efforts, habitat protection, recycling, storm water capture and innovative technologies is all positive, but does not address the specific needs of the Central Valley for sufficient water storage.
Drought conditions have exacerbated concerns about our fragile delta and the reliability of our antiquated water-delivery system. Those of us in the Central Valley know only too well how difficult it is to meet California's varying water needs under the current system.
In a state consistently plagued by drought, common sense dictates that we must have the ability to store the water we get when we get it. Where the Legislature ultimately lands on this will be decided this year. One thing is certain: When people and businesses turn on the tap, they expect water.
State Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, represents the 14th District, which includes parts of Fresno, Madera, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties; and all of Mariposa and Tuolumne counties.