From the 188,000 residents who were evacuated two weeks ago below the Oroville Dam, to the 14,000 in San Jose who were recently rescued from contaminated water, no Californian has been unaffected by the historic storms beating down on our state. Sometimes it feels like it will never end, reminding us of past floods and the challenges that result from so much water coming in such a short period.
The situation is serious, which is why you might think I’m making a bad joke when I say that according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 10 million Californians are still living under drought conditions. And even when this drought officially ends, it won’t be the last dry spell that our state sees.
In 2014, spurred into action amid this horrific drought, California voters passed the $7.5 billion water bond, a major milestone in creating a more sustainable water future for our state. The largest bucket of funding – $2.7 billion – is allocated for water storage, yet as of today, not a cent has been awarded for spending.
Whether above ground or below, increasing water storage is key to addressing the water supply concerns of today as well as preparing our state for future droughts and the impacts of a changing climate. We cannot continue to operate with a “feast or famine” mindset, but we can’t break out of this frame of mind without making drastic changes to our water infrastructure.
Millions of gallons of water are flowing directly to the ocean as wasted rainfall instead of being stored underground or in reservoirs for drier days. We must act now to create a more resilient California water future.
In my almond orchards near Modesto, I have volunteered two plots of land for groundwater recharge research, looking to refill the underground aquifers that act as California’s single largest water storage system. These aquifers are a shared resource between farmers, families and businesses, so the act of replenishing them through recharge brings benefits to a much wider community.
Through this research we will understand how almond orchards across the state can play a role in storing extra flood flows like the ones we’re getting this year.
This work, a potential solution for some of California’s water woes, would not be possible without the collaborative effort and funding from the Almond Board of California in partnership with Sustainable Conservation, UC Davis, Land IQ and Lawrence Berkeley Labs.
The California almond community has received an unfair amount of negative attention around the drought, increased through misinformation about my industry and our farming practices. But I can say the ongoing leadership of the California almond community – a group of more than 6,800 farmers – in the areas of irrigation and water advancements is something I am immensely proud of.
While the drought did trigger this initiative, let me be clear that this project is not an isolated effort. The California almond community has invested in more than 180 water research projects since 1982 to more efficiently use, manage and protect water resources.
This long-term approach to water sustainability will help us ensure that California remains a place where crops and future generations can grow and thrive.
So we can celebrate this rain, but do not be fooled into thinking this quick fix will protect us. My hope is that when the next drought comes, we will have made fundamental changes to our water infrastructure for the better. Let’s not repeat history when solutions are within reach.
Nick Blom grows almonds in Stanislaus County and is a director of the Modesto Irrigation District. He wrote this for The Modesto Bee.