California Needs More Water Infrastructure to Ease Shortage: Expert

California Needs More Water Infrastructure to Ease Shortage: Expert
A caution sign is posted at the Castaic Lake reservoir in Los Angeles County in Castaic, California, on May 3, 2022. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A former water utility director said the California and federal government are to blame for the state’s water shortage issues, since the state’s infrastructure has not kept up with demand.

“The State of California and the Feds are largely responsible, because we have not continued with the building of our water infrastructure,” said Brett Barbre, former director of the Municipal Water District of Orange County, during an interview with EpochTV’s “California Insider” program.

Barbre said that the major dams and reservoirs that serve Californians were largely built in the last century.

“If you look at our infrastructure, major facilities, the last major reservoir was built by metropolitan in Southern California 1999. ... We really have not kept up with the population growth,” he said in the interview.

Meanwhile, some parts of California have become very water-efficient, serving as a model for how the rest of the state can help maximize its water use, Barbre said.

“We use our water multiple times in Orange County. We take the sewer flows and we recycle it, put it back in the groundwater basin and pump it out. We’re very efficient with the use of that water—the rest of the state not so much,” he said.

There are several issues that prevent California from expanding water storage, he said, for example the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and other environmental efforts can halt efforts to build reservoirs.

“When CEQA went into effect, that’s been used effectively to stop these big projects. And that’s really hurt society,” he said. “We’re requiring a lot of water releases to make sure [protected fish species] can get back downstream. There are communities where they’re told you can’t grow your food this year, you can’t have domestic water, because we need to release it for the fish.”

For example, the Sites Reservoir was proposed in the 1980s and would have served to capture stormwater and flood flows north of Sacramento. However, the project was opposed by many environmental groups, including Sierra Club California. To date, the reservoir still hasn’t been built.

Bill Diedrich, farmer and president of the California Farm Water Coalition agrees with Barbre about urging the government to invest more on building new water infrastructures to ease the water shortage.

“California’s water infrastructure is old and failing,” he wrote in a recent commentary for CalMatters.

“Both the lack of infrastructure and failing infrastructure are major reasons hundreds of thousands of Californians, most in rural and disadvantaged communities, lack access to clean drinking water.”

He emphasized that “governments must move forward now on both short- and long-term projects.”

The state has imposed stronger water restrictions this year than ever before as California is experiencing the driest year on record. On June 1, one-third of Southern Californians were limited to outdoor watering to one day a week.

Adel Hagekhalil, general manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the largest wholesale drinking water agency in the country, said all outdoor watering could be banned if the water supply conditions worsen in the coming months.

“Metropolitan has never before employed this type of restriction on outdoor water use. But we are facing unprecedented reductions in our Northern California supplies, and we have to respond with unprecedented measures,” Hagekhalil said in a statement.

However, Barbre believes that all of these problems can be solved if there’s enough water storage built in California.

“So if we had more storage—we probably just need maybe 5 or 6 million acre feet more storage—if we had that, we'd withstand any drought. We wouldn’t need to do conservation. People could have grass if they wanted. They could have trees, they could have cactus, whatever they want,” Barbre said.