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California | Central Valley | Environment & Forest Defense | Global Justice and Anti-Capitalism | Health, Housing, and Public Services

The Virtues of Local Water
by Michael Pineschi
Wednesday Sep 12th, 2012 11:01 AM
With the state deficit and unemployment statistics at an all-time high, spending billions on a mammoth public works project is a bad idea. California needs to look into intelligent local solutions as we move into the future, not at archaic plans resurrected from the past.
I grew up in North Lake Tahoe where we were all deeply connected and invested in our local water. We knew that the water that ran out of our taps originated as snowpack on the mountains that surrounded us when the lake or our streams were low, we knew we had to conserve more to ensure the sustainability of the resource. We cared because we knew where it came from and, in many cases, we knew the people who worked to ensure the system was in order. Sadly, this isn’t the norm for most Californians who aren’t surrounded daily by visual reminders like snow-capped mountains or wide blue lakes.

California water politics have a long history of dysfunction and mystery – movies and books galore have been made to tell the story. One of the most popular myths is that all Southern Californians are water hogs carelessly watering their large green lawns, excessively washing their cars and flippantly filling their swimming pools despite their desert-like climate. But this just isn’t true. According to Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s own research, Los Angeles’ water consumption is down compared to 30 years ago even though its population has grown by more than a million inhabitants. Los Angeles has been importing less water and plans to continue the trend.

Unfortunately, Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal to build two 35-mile Peripheral Tunnels to transport water from the Sacramento Delta to Southern California completely undermines these local water solutions. And to add insult to injury, Angelinos would be asked to foot the bill for the expensive and unsustainable plan that will primarily benefit a few large corporate agribusinesses and take money out of their community. Local options cost significantly less and provide valuable jobs, increase sustainability and offer progress toward water independence.

Food & Water Watch commissioned a report [available for download here] that examines the economics of the tunnel and its potential impact on Los Angeles ratepayers. The costs of this tunnel would be immense – as much as $47 billion – much of that would be footed by ratepayers. The cost increases to ratepayers could be $2,003 to $9,182 per customer if the tunnel is built to siphon water away from an already overtaxed Sacramento Delta. While customers and the environment get taken advantage of, a few will make out like bandits. Taxpayer-subsidized water will flow into the hands of a few giant agribusinesses who grow water-intensive crops for export or will make a fortune selling the water to real estate developers.

There is no shortage of innovative and commonsense ideas that can be implemented at the local level to help Los Angeles move towards more water independence. To start, working on local infrastructure is desperately needed (there are around 1400 water main breaks in LA every year). Maximizing rainwater runoff and collection, climate-based landscaping, recycling and conservation efforts would all provide local solutions at a much lower price tag and also ease the need for costly imported water. One of the best side effects of these approaches would be local job creation.

With the state deficit and unemployment statistics at an all-time high, spending billions on a mammoth public works project is a bad idea. California needs to look into intelligent local solutions as we move into the future, not at archaic plans resurrected from the past.

Michael Pineschi is a Sacramento/Tahoe area native who interned at the consumer advocacy nonprofit Food & Water Watch this summer in San Francisco