So, What is The New Normal?

Nov 13, 2015

Marc Levine_New NormalIf there is one thing that is—or should be—on every Californian’s mind, it’s water security. On November 4th the Bay Area Council hosted The New Normal: Climate, Water and the Economy Forum that explored private sector conservation and innovation, drought-proofing the Bay Area and solving California’s Delta crisis. As Lester Snow, Executive Director of the California Water Foundation, noted, the drought has revealed the fundamental weaknesses within the State’s system. Water system challenges of note include increasing population, aging infrastructure, groundwater overdraft, degraded ecosystems, increasing conflict, and management fragmentation.

The first panel emphasized the importance of getting the business community to engage. Marc Blakeman with AT&T explained that they’ve saved 70 million gallons since 2013 with improved monitoring systems. AT&T teamed up with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Global Environmental Management Institute (GEMI) to create and develop the WaterMAPP Toolkit, which helps organizations reduce their water use using a scorecard and calculator. 800 corporations and entities have downloaded the tool, which has resulted in an annualized savings of approximately 1 billion gallons of water. Tony Sanfillipo, General Manager of Anheuser-Bush InBev, discussed optimizing each step of their brewing processes to look at how many times they can reuse water (e.g. landscaping, tank cleaning, etc.). Their Los Angeles operations have reduced water use by 9% since 2014 and by 41.6% since 2004.

The second panel focused on the Bay Area’s work. Michael Carlin, Deputy General Manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), explained that 2.6 Million customers are already on automated meters in San Francisco. He also stated that, “we are the only business trying to get out of business,” in illuminating the fact that there needs to be harmonization between reuse onsite, stormwater management and more. The SFPUC will need to reinvent itself, perhaps by becoming operators of these systems.

The third panel included discussions about the State’s Delta crisis. Wade Crawford, Senior Advisor at the Governor’s Office of Research and Planning, emphasized the need for a catalyzed local and regional effort to diversify sources of water to increase drought resilience. More flood plains may help recover endangered species and improved forest management in the Sierra’s can improve the water quality. The San Joaquin delta is oversubscribed and the panel emphasized the important of updating the Delta’s water quality standards.

As Andy Bell, West Coast President of the Suffolk Construction Company, stated: “With no water we don’t have a viable state, we need to get really serious about this.” Given the predictions of higher than average precipitation in Southern California and anticipations of flood, the Governor’s office is preparing to add declaration of flood on top of the existing drought emergency declaration. This unpredictable and explosive climate is the new normal and Californian’s will have to adapt accordingly. In not letting these crises go to waste, it will be necessary to invest in water infrastructure (e.g. water reuse and recycling, disadvantaged communities connections and treatment, stormwater capture and use, storage and conveyance, infrastructure funding), create markets to move water, drive water conservation and ensure that everyone in California has safe and reliable water.

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