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Barry Nelson’s Blog

Tapping Into California's Virtual River

Barry Nelson

Posted May 30, 2008 in Living Sustainably

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California is at a turning point in its efforts to meet its water supply needs. For a century and a half, the traditional approach was to search out new rivers to dam or pump from. The problem is that the Golden State is fresh out of rivers. As this op-ed in the San Diego Union Tribune indicates, California has one last river to tap into. But this is a virtual river, composed of the enormous potential supplies from efficiency, reuse, groundwater clean-up and stormwater management.

The familiar narrative in California's "water wars" is one of environmentalists and urban water agencies fighting over massive water projects. What makes the virtual river so interesting is that environmentalists and urban water agencies alike agree this is where we will get our "new" water in the future. This common ground was demonstrated just two days ago, when the California State Assembly passed an NRDC-sponsored water conservation bill, AB 2175, which would reduce California's per capita water use by 20 percent.

The State of California's official water plan shows this same potential. The graphic below shows the combined total of the State Water Plan's estimates of the potential yield of water conservation, water recycling and groundwater management, along with NRDC's estimate of the potential of stormwater management in just three Southern California counties. This total is greater than the Bay-Delta, greater than the Colorado River, and vastly greater than the potential yield of multi-billion dollar new dam proposals.

We're convinced that these solutions, which make so much environmental, economic -- and common -- sense, will win the day in California and in the growing number of places in the nation and around the world that are experiencing water shortages. They may not be as dramatic as an old-fashioned water fight. They just work.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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