The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) recently issued a new report titled "2014 Drought: Impacts and Strategies for Resilience" for building a statewide water management system more resilient to drought. At the same time, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pacific Institute released a new report titled "The Untapped Potential of California's Water Supply" highlighting possible water conservation through modern irrigation technologies and practices. These reports provide differing recommendations on how best to respond to the state's drought conditions.

Governor Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency on January 17, 2014 and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for drought conditions. The governor called on Californians to reduce water use by 20% and followed his drought declaration with a more detailed executive order on April 25, 2014.

ACWA's Drought Action Group recommended the following:

  1. State and federal agencies should facilitate construction of shovel-ready water infrastructure projects by providing funding and technical assistance as soon as possible.
  2. The SWRCB should identify ways to reduce impediments and provide funding and technical assistance for projects that create new surface and groundwater storage and improve conveyance around the state to help address the state's groundwater challenges.
  3. State and federal agencies should continue to move toward using real-time data for operational decisions to allow for greater flexibility and efficiency in getting water to the state's economy.
  4. The state should work with stakeholders and explore opportunities to further streamline transfers including additional collaboration with the federal government and a careful review of the recent report from the Streamline Our Agency Regulations (SOAR) Water Transfers Action Team.
  5. The state should facilitate and/or expedite regulations or permitting processes that encourage innovative technologies including water recycling and desalination.
  6. The state should work with local agencies to review opportunities for more closely coordinating planning documents in drought conditions.
  7. The state and federal government should provide funding and technical support in partnership with local agencies to develop long-term water infrastructure projects that will help ensure reliable water supplies for both the economy and the environment.
  8. The state and federal government should disburse funding approved through state drought emergency legislation passed earlier this year and other federal programs so projects can move forward and assist impacted communities.
  9. The state should acknowledge that local water systems are best equipped to determine which water conservation programs are most effective for their customers.
  10. The state should review its overall 2014 drought response and look for opportunities to improve coordination in future dry conditions or other extreme weather events.

NRDC's report recommended more focus on the following initiatives to better manage use and reuse water supplies:

  1. Improving Agricultural Water-Use Efficiency
  2. Improving Urban Water-Use Efficiency
  3. Greater Water Reuse
  4. Expanding Stormwater Capture and Use
  5. Combined Water Supply and Demand Reductions

The National Weather Service data confirm that nearly the entire state is in severe drought and over two-thirds in extreme drought. ACWA's report shows significant impacts from drought conditions not only to agriculture but also wildlife protection, commercial sector and trade and ecosystems.

These reports agree that current drought conditions have exposed key vulnerabilities in the state's water management system that must be addressed as soon as possible to avoid even more dire challenges in the future. These reports add to the growing volume of data about next best steps to address water scarcity concerns. According to the NRDC, the challenge is not a lack of knowledge or vision about what to do but rather the urgent need for more effective implementation of strategies already known to work.

California's drought conditions and the State's response to growing water scarcity is a real time reminder of water-related challenges faced now and to be confronted in the future throughout the United States, based upon climate change predictions and population growth expectations.

ACWA's report is available at http://www.acwa.com/spotlight/acwa-drought-action-group-report.

NRDC/Pacific Institute's report is available at http://www.nrdc.org/water/ca-water-supply-solutions.asp.