Climate Change Makes the Case for Infrastructure Investment Now Rather Than Later

  • by Steve LaMar & Pamela Tobin
  • Apr 23, 2021
  • Voices on Water

It is neither a surprise that drought conditions in California are returning, nor a mystery how we can adapt for a future of dryer dry periods and wetter wet periods. After all, climate change is now a major factor in water management, and resilience has become the water community’s  one-word call to action. 

Today, that call to action speaks louder than ever. The latest snow survey results confirm a second consecutive dry winter, and the Department of Water Resources recently lowered its initial State Water Project allocation for the 2021 water year from 10% to 5% of requested supplies, while the Bureau of Reclamation has suspended deliveries altogether. This sobering development makes it abundantly clear that action must be taken now at the state and federal levels to invest in improving our aging water infrastructure. This is the only way we can realize a more reliable, resilient water supply for Californians, the food supply and the environment as climate change extremes grow more severe.

President Joe Biden’s recently unveiled $2 trillion infrastructure American Jobs Plan includes $111 billion for water infrastructure. This represents an encouraging start to addressing the pressing need for investments in water infrastructure, but more funding is necessary. Fulfilling this need should be a top priority for lawmakers from Western states, and from California’s delegation in particular. But federal investment isn’t the only answer.

For years, many elements within California’s water infrastructure network have remained long overdue for repairs and improvements, while at the same time a lack of financial resources is keeping many proposed projects on paper instead of under construction. We see this firsthand in each of our respective areas of the state, and it is true whether it’s coastal urban areas or rural Northern California and the Central Valley. Ignoring aging infrastructure or continuing gaps in funding represent the same outcome: missed opportunities to further strengthen water supply reliability and greatly enhance climate and water resilience throughout the state. 

While the pandemic eclipsed the Newsom Administration’s proposed $4.75 billion Climate Resilience Bond in 2020, two climate resilience bond proposals are currently moving through the Legislature. ACWA staff is actively advocating for amendments to those proposals to obtain needed state funding in the following areas: regional and inter-regional water resilience; groundwater and SGMA implementation; dam safety; recycling and desalination; flood protection and safe drinking water. Not only is water infrastructure funding key to meeting the state’s climate resilience goals, but it will help create jobs and stimulate local economies.

Even before climate change, California endured repeated droughts over time. With lessons learned, it is more important than ever to secure the necessary funds to prepare for droughts and floods. If climate resiliency is truly a top need in California, there is every reason why state and federal investment in water infrastructure deserves a place on the short list of effective ways to achieve it. 

ACWA member agencies possess the best experience in the world when it comes to continuously preparing for whatever conditions arise. Their ability to put this experience to work requires continuous, comprehensive planning and investments. This is how we maintain operational reliability and flexibility to respond to the extreme climate variability that defines our times.

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