On the Road with California Humanities discusses the future of water in California

Panelists discuss what we know, what we don't know, and what we must learn to manage a future in which water is going to become more precious
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As part of a national celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize, California Humanities has been offering a series of discussion forums throughout the state. “On the Road with California Humanities” connects Pulitzer-prize winning authors, artists, journalists, and other notable thinkers who are helping to guide California along the road to a vibrant future. Topics include a range of subjects including journalism and democracy, the connection between the arts and the humanities, and the future of water resources.

“On the Road with California Humanities” came to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas on Saturday, Aug. 27. The topic was, California's Water: Rivers, Oceans, and Our Future. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bettina Boxall joined Felicia Marcus, chair of California’s State Water Resources Control Board, Abby Taylor-Silva, vice president of policy and communications at the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, and Bruny Mora, an alumnus of University of California, Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay Aquarium Teen Programs as they discussed what we know and what we don't know, and what we must learn about how to manage a future in which water is going to become all the more precious.

Boxall started the conversation stating that California is still using a 20th Century mentality when it comes to water – “just take what we need,” without any thoughts of sustainability. Water is a finite resource and the need for this resource is becoming more competitive among the environment, agriculture, industry and the urban population. Add the challenges of climate change and our current system of managing water is unsustainable.

Marcus added that we lack the basic tools to measure water. Without knowing how much is being used it is difficult to manage this resource properly. She then outlined the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). This legislation was passed in 2014 and is a comprehensive three-bill package that provides a framework for sustainable management of groundwater supplies by local authorities, with a limited role for state intervention only if necessary to protect the resource.

The act requires the formation of local groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) that must assess conditions in their local water basins and adopt locally-based management plans. The act provides substantial time – 20 years – for GSAs to implement plans and achieve long-term groundwater sustainability. It protects existing surface water and groundwater rights and does not impact current drought response measures.

Taylor-Silva elaborated on the significant investments that the agricultural community has made in water efficiency projects. Growers have been working for many years to make good use of water. Infrastructure development, conservation on-the-ground and innovation have all done a lot to sustain our local water system, but they’re not stopping there. Growers and landowners in the Salinas Valley are focused on solutions for the long term, and continuing to look for ways to increase water storage and recharge opportunities, which will benefit of our community for many years to come, just as they’ve done for more than half a century.

Mora, of Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay Aquarium Teen Programs, talked about the role of education and how getting young people to understand the issues and dynamics of local and state water needs is important.

At the end of the evening’s discussion, the panel took questions from the audience. Everything from water rights to desalination were discussed with many of the questions being directed towards Felicia Marcus, Chair of California’s State Water Resource Control Board.

The good thing about the drought is that it has raised the awareness of this precious resource. It’s good to see and hear from people that are actively working on solutions to keep our water supply robust and healthy. There’s a lot of work to do, but we’ve come a long way and many good, qualified people are working on solutions. Each and every Californian has a stake in the future of our water supply. We all have to treat water as the valuable commodity that it is and make sure none goes to waste.

Shawn Novack

Shawn Novack is the Director of the Water Resources Association of San Benito County. The Association represents the City of Hollister, the City of San Juan Bautista, the Sunnyslope County Water District and the San Benito County Water District for all their water conservation and water resource protection programs. Shawn has been in the field of water conservation for 20 years. He has a certification as a Water Conservation Practioner from the American Water Works Association California/Nevada Chapter. He also is a Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor through the Irrigation Association in Virginia. Before getting into the water industry, Shawn worked as a technical writer for the Naval Research Center in Monterey.