By Nick Diamantides
(Part one of a two-part series)
Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA 39th District) praised the Water Replenishment District (WRD) for its successful efforts to ensure that the region has adequate groundwater supplies, but she said more regulations might be necessary to encourage conservation and reduce pollution. Sanchez was the keynote speaker at WRD’s Groundwater 101 Forum, which took place Aug. 27 at WRD headquarters in Lakewood. About 50 people attended the event, including managers and representatives from various local water agencies and city councils. An environmental-science instructor and students from Rio Hondo College also attended.
“Groundwater is sometimes not on people’s radar screens,” Sanchez said. “In this world of global warming, record heat waves and extreme weather patterns, the topic of water is going to be more and more important, not just to California, but to our country as a whole.”
Sanchez pointed out that water has played a major role in the development of the American West, especially Southern California. “I grew up hearing that we live in a reclaimed desert,” she said. “So I know some of the challenges that we face.”
Sanchez noted, however, that dwindling water supplies are not just a problem in Southern California and the Southwest. “Thirty nine states are expected to experience serious water shortages in the next decade,” she said. “We have to be very conscious of the role that water plays in our lives, and the way we reshape the policy discussion about water is to start thinking of the ways we use this very precious resource.”
The congresswoman explained that federal, state and local governments must implement more programs that give everyone clear incentives to use water efficiently and to avoid waste. “We need regulations affecting water use in appliances and incentives to shift from irrigated lawns to water-smart landscape,” she said, adding that those were just two examples of what governments and water agencies should do to protect America’s water supply.
Sanchez added that educating the public about wasteful water use must also be a key element in water-conservation efforts. She explained that many people still do not practice very simple, painless water conservation at home. “We need to have everyone keenly aware of water usage,” she said.
Sanchez said she believes that federal and state governments have an obligation to help develop water-efficiency techniques. “We need to get information out. We need to train people,” she said. “In some cases, economic incentives need to be provided to farms and businesses that will help them to shift to more water-friendly practices.”
She explained that, for most of its history, the United States has made many unwise choices with regard to water usage, an example of which is the plethora of dams that were built in the 1900s. “If I were a member of Congress back in the days of FDR, I would have supported federal funding for dams in and near my district,” she said. “Back then, bringing a dam home was a fad, and it made an area rich and provided jobs.” She stressed, however, that in those days most people did not realize the destructive effect that such massive projects had on the environment. Nowadays, she noted, the American people are much more cognizant of the environmental impacts of major developments, and they are also more aware of the need to conserve water.
Sanchez added that, in order to encourage more water conservation, she and some of her colleagues in Congress are currently working on legislation to create a “Water Star” program to be the equivalent of the “Home Energy Star” program. “The idea of the program is to reward communities and homeowners that make that concerted effort to protect and improve their community in areas of surface water, groundwater, habitat, and plants,” she said. “I have been working with the Water Replenishment District and some of my colleagues in the Senate to try to get this done.”
Sanchez said that for years she has been working with WRD to organize local members of Congress to address regional needs and find ways to increase the local water supply, and reduce storm water runoff pollution. “We need to work collaboratively on a region-wide basis,” she explained.
The Congresswoman also said she believes the federal government needs to supply more funding for “smart street construction” that puts more water back into the ground instead of flushing it into storm sewers that carry it and tons of debris and pollution into rivers, lakes and oceans. She added that all levels of government must work together to ensure that Americans today, as well as future generations, have adequate supplies of clean, safe drinking water. “I don’t think our water policy can get more basic than that,” she said.
Next Week: WRD Director Lillian Kawasaki explains the vital role WRD plays in maintaining the region’s water supply.