News Feature | December 14, 2017

Report: What California Learned From Drinking Water/Wastewater Challenges In 2017

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

In a new report on the state’s water priorities, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) offered the nation some guidance on how it might address issues that are burdening regions all over the country.

“This past year was a prime example of California’s highly variable climate — and a precursor of the types of extremes that are expected to become more common,” the report reads. “After five years of drought exacerbated by record heat, 2017’s record rain and snow brought more challenges — stressing dams and levees, causing landslides, and adding fuel to fire-prone landscapes.”

The state, which has long been a leader in environmental action, faced several high-level water and wastewater issues that are cropping up in other areas around the world. It has long wrestled with water scarcity, heavy rainfall led to stormwater management problems, and forest fires have imperiled source water quality.

When it comes to ensuring clean and reliable water supplies, PPIC outlined a $2.7 billion state bond program for storage infrastructure, among other initiatives.

“Other top priorities are improving groundwater recharge and dam safety,” per the report. “Cities and farms are trying to maintain momentum on using water more efficiently. Priorities include improving basin-level planning and water markets.”

California was hit with raging wildfires this year and their relation to water efforts are two-fold. Firstly, drought has left forests dry and susceptible to fire. Secondly, ash and other fire constituents find their way into source water supplies and can affect quality. To reduce these consequences, PPIC outlined a fundamental approach to diminishing forest fires overall.

“Reducing forest density with the strategic use of fire and mechanical thinning is critical to increasing the resilience of headwater forests in a changing climate,” according to the report.

In an ironic twist for a state that has long been ravaged by drought, California received an inundation of rainfall this year that brought flooding and stormwater overflow issues. PPIC wants California to be prepared for excessive rain in the future.

“The recent combination of record drought followed by record rainfall highlights the need for more effective management of California’s water storage,” per the report. “Some big funding decisions will be made during the coming year, and important groundwork for future investments will get under way… Funding applications have been submitted for 12 projects across the state.”

After dealing with several high-level water issues in 2017, California’s report may offer guidance on those issues for utilities around the country.