Community Columns

A necessary $9 billion water system investment

As a businessman, former local government official and especially as a native Californian, I have come to understand the importance of water.

Without water, much of our state would be an uninhabitable desert; with water, California is dynamic, diverse and prosperous. The precarious nature of our water system today makes it imperative that we do something to ensure our livelihoods.

I am proud to author the governor’s water infrastructure proposal, introduced in the legislative special session he called in response to California’s water crisis. It is a $9 billion comprehensive plan for the future of California’s precious water. It is one of two bills, the other of which will spur early actions to begin restoring the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta immediately.

Together, these bills map out a solid approach for fixing California’s broken water system, addressing the state’s long-term needs through investments in storage both above and below ground, delta restoration and local projects. This plan is endorsed by the state’s water experts, most of the state’s water districts and the business community.

The ability to store more water decreases chances of flooding in wet years and secures a supply of fresh water in drought years.

The delta is the largest estuary on the West Coast and is the hub of California’s water system. It plays a vital dual role as an aquatic ecosystem and as the major collection point for water that serves roughly 23 million people. Two-thirds of California’s population relies on the delta for drinking water and for water to feed families, farms, businesses and the economy.

The governor’s proposal will direct the Department of Water Resources to make the objectives of CalFed and the Delta Blue Ribbon Task Force a reality — namely, to develop a strategy for managing the delta to improve California’s water supply and the delta’s ecological health.

This plan recognizes that integrated regional water management will help meet regional needs and provides a match for local funds. Regions must develop a more diversified mix of water management strategies, including conservation, recycling, storage and desalination projects to qualify. These projects will help develop a reliable water system.

Inaction has a price.

The Department of Water Resources estimates that the 1976-77 drought cost California almost $7 billion. That one-year drought cost nearly as much as we're proposing to spend upgrading our system to sustain generations to come. This plan will help keep California's system flexible and working, protecting the state from economic devastation regardless of the weather.

The need is clear. California's population is anticipated to rise by 30 percent in the next 20 years, and water use is predicted to increase dramatically. Anticipated changes in hydrology mean we must change the way we manage water to protect against floods and drought.

The delta, the main water delivery system, is broken. Recent court rulings will force drastic curtailments in how much water can be pumped from the delta.

This is the right plan and the right time to act.

It's time to invest in water infrastructure. Last year, we agreed that California needed new highways and schools. We could see the crumbling highways and recognized that the backbone of our transportation system needed repair. The media shined a spotlight on broken school windows and the conditions in which children were being asked to learn, and it hit home.

It's harder to film aging levees and low-quality drinking water, but if we don't do something now the only photos you'll see are those of taps running dry and the devastating effects that are sure to follow.

Cogdill, R-Modesto, represents the 14th Senate District, which includes parts of Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties and all of Tuolumne and Mariposa counties.