Water czar is key to California's survival

Last week's state water usage report was both shocking and sobering.  Not only did California not meet its projected statewide reduction goal, overall water usage actually increased!  Talk about playing with fire (no pun intended).  We are on the verge of a catastrophe and no one seems to care.

I realize the forces of Mother Nature, politics and money are part of the problem and solution to our water crisis.  Despite the fact that California is 100 percent in drought, some things are constant:  First, we are a state of 58 counties and nearly 500 incorporated cities and towns; second, our economy is the 8th largest in the world; and third, we number more than 37 million residents.  Having said that, nothing and no one trumps the obvious:  We have make sure the state has enough water. 

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Yes, immigration is a problem, just as under employment and low achieving schools are.  But water is in a category by itself.  With it, California produces a sizable majority of many American fruits, vegetables and nuts.  Without it, we aren't just parched, we are less secure.  Water sustains life.  Quite simply, it is more valuable than oil or high tech fortunes.  The sooner people come to grips with this fact, the sooner we can begin to solve the state's problem.

No doubt the recent decision by the California Water Resources Board to fine water wasters $500 a day will have an impact on personal consumption rates.  Ditto for changes in homeowner association (HOA) rules about watering community lawns.  But these "fixes" are just a drop in the bucket (again, no pun intended).

We need a combination of water-producing solutions to solve California's drought, not fines.  These include better ways to store water, the need to build desalination plants and more effective means of capturing run off, to name a few.  We also need city council members, county supervisors and state lawmakers on board.  That's because their political preoccupation with local or regional boundaries often times prevents them from making smart and timely decisions affecting the entire state.

I have said it before and I will say it again:  California needs a water czar.  We need one person in charge of ensuring the state has enough water.  He or she needs to be able to make decisions that transcend geographic boundaries, water district politics and partisan gridlock.  Think of him or her like the Director of the FBI or Homeland Security, only for water.  Appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, these crime and terrorist fighters operate at a unique level in Washington. 

With the appropriate checks and balances in place, a water czar could be given similar powers in Sacramento.  Yes, he or she would consider scientific, environmental, legal and political arguments before making decisions impacting the state.  But once those decisions are made, the czar would rely on local leaders and agencies to quickly implement them.  Not too dissimilar from the way governors, judges and police chiefs coast to coast have to react after receiving news from the FBI or Homeland Security.

Fighting crime or terrorism is not the same as fighting Mother Nature.  Still, we have a model in place that allows certain, key people to operate a level unlike most everyone else.  It is time California finds that person.  Water is key to our survival.  A state water czar will ensure there is plenty of it in the months and years ahead.

Freidenrich writes from Laguna Beach, California. 

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