The drought in California and across the Colorado River basin is a problem for every American, regardless of where they live, because it has implications for our economy and our environment. For that reason, I was pleased that the Obama administration recently hosted a conversation among a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including academia, the agricultural sector, sportsmen groups, conservation organizations, and others in the private sector. American Water was invited to a symposium in Washington to share ideas and potential solutions to enhance drought resilience.
More importantly, we came together to explore collaborative water management opportunities that will best serve the long-term sustainability of water resources across the West, and protect our environment and our way of life.
The National Drought Resilience Partnership, which hosted the event, is an inter-agency federal working group created by President Obama in 2013 to make it easier for communities afflicted by years of drought conditions to access assistance. The Partnership promotes information sharing across all levels of government so that federal drought policies are better aligned with the needs of states, tribes and local communities. The meaningful conversations at the symposium revealed common, systemic problems with data sharing, water transfers, and other issues, underscoring the importance of such collaboration. Some of the key points I took away include:
1. The Colorado River basin (Southern California receives water imported from the basin), is ground zero for drought and how we deal with drought here can and will set the standard for collaboration and cooperation across all levels of business, government and agriculture.
2. California American Water’s 630,000 customers have successfully instituted conservation measures, which I believe can help sustain our rural and urban communities and protect habitat for wildlife by keeping water in the Colorado River and others. I would like to see more discussion about how water conservation can be an essential strategy for resiliency.
3. There appears to be a need for greater data sharing between Federal agencies with states and utilities, public and private, to facilitate real-time decision-making. This improves water management reliability, and would contribute to maintaining healthy flows in the Colorado River system and in drought-stricken California.
4. Enhanced Federal funding, with the recognition that the private sector can and should be an important partner, can help upgrade irrigation district infrastructure and help to support technology to detect leaks in our public and private water delivery systems to achieve greater water use efficiency. Each day approximately seven billion gallons of water in the U.S. are “lost” due to leaks – representing 14 percent of total daily drinking water production. With new automatic leak detection technologies in place, California American Water is making great strides in detecting, preventing and managing many major leaks before they happen. All water managers should have such tools, and Federal partners could provide financial assistance and incentives.
We all agree that water is a precious resource. At California American Water we believe it is our responsibility to use water and our other natural resources wisely. We work with our customers to conserve water by offering rebates for turf removal and high efficiency appliances and plumbing fixtures, by providing water surveys, and by educating our customers about smart irrigation schedules. We also offer school programs on water and energy conservation for elementary school students.
We urge federal, state and local agencies, other businesses and individuals to consider what they can do to promote and implement conservation, reuse, and data and water sharing so that we can survive and even thrive in dry conditions. As Obama said in April about the drought: “Everyone is in this together and we all need to be doing our part.”
We appreciate the administration’s leadership in convening this conversation. Collaboration between federal, state and local partners is critical to long-term drought resilience. Fortunately, work is well underway to identify areas of common ground and to strengthen that approach.
Tilden is director of External Affairs for California American Water, a wholl -owned subsidiary of American Water, which serves about 630,000 people in Northern, Central and Southern California. It is a member of Protect the Flows -- a coalition of 1,200 businesses that seek to maintain a healthy and flowing Colorado River system.