Where Unity of Purpose Finds a Voice

  • by Dave Eggerton
  • Sep 17, 2021
  • Voices on Water

During the past two months, I have enjoyed the privilege of personally meeting staff and leadership at several ACWA member agencies, including visits to the Central Valley and San Diego County. It’s great to be back in the field to see first-hand your challenges and successes during these incredibly difficult times. 

Our irrigation district membership serves an agricultural community at a crossroads, with drought impacting the production of our nation’s food supply and the economy that supports it, all the while enduring stubborn public misperceptions about the significant contributions they make to water efficiency and environmental health. California is the largest field laboratory on the planet for water saving irrigation technology. 

Between 1980 and 2015, California farms reduced their water use by 14% while increasing production by 38%. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), California produces more fresh food per gallon of water on 15 different crops – ranging from strawberries and tomatoes to walnuts – than what is used by our major trade competitors. At the same time, many of the these growers are working with our member agencies and others to pioneer the development of multi-beneficial approaches to farming that create critical habitat for fish and wildlife such as migratory waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway.

On the urban side, ACWA member agencies deserve credit for stunning advances in water recycling, reuse and efficiency that were almost impossible to imagine just a couple decades ago. Orange County Water District’s Groundwater Replenishment System is the largest of its kind in the world, while agencies throughout California, such as San Diego’s East County Advanced Water Purification Program, continue to collectively invest billions in steadily diversifying water supplies and building local resiliency. That foresight is paying off during this severe drought.

Whether they serve farms, factories or families, ACWA member agencies share a strong ethic of responsibility and stewardship. And yes, I share your growing frustration over the lack of awareness of local water management demonstrated by the public and news media. Climate change may well be the leading challenge of our generation of water leaders, but the lack of understanding of what it takes to provide for the essential water-related needs of the people we serve, whether directly at home or indirectly through the grocery store, seems to run a close second. What we all need to appreciate within our association is that overcoming both depends on resisting any impulse to take each other for granted. 

It is the responsibility of all ACWA members to understand each other and, in doing so, become each other’s advocate. The best opportunity we have to ensure the dissemination of accurate information is when urban water leaders become outspoken supporters of agriculture, and irrigation leaders add their voice to supporting their urban colleagues.

ACWA serves as a toolbox and town square for building that understanding while transforming it into shared support behind a unified voice. We are fortunate to be able to interact at conferences, committee meetings, region events and other venues to gain mutual understanding of each other’s different approaches to answering the same basic challenge – caring for a resource that is as vital as it is vulnerable. The hardest job in California isn’t getting any easier, which is all the more reason to appreciate that we’re all in this together, no matter who we serve or where we work.

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