Rare opportunity for sensible water policy

President Obama should be commended for making it a priority to tour California's Central Valley this week to see firsthand the impact of the state's worst drought in history. His mere presence speaks volumes about the seriousness of this crisis and lends it the stature it finally deserves.

Given the gravity of this dire situation, we hope today's event will be more than a symbolic show of moral support and compassionate photo op. Rather, it should be a defining and pivotal moment in California history - one that results in concrete action for California to once and for all break a vicious cycle of legislating from one crisis to the next.

While the whims of Mother Nature play a major role, we cannot ignore the role that federal and state water policies have played to create this drought. It is also a miscalculation to frame this issue, as primarily a Central Valley farming problem, since the drought affects all of California. President Obama should understand that water rates are ever increasing and California small businesses including tortilla makers, restaurants, jewelers, construction and the thousands of other enterprises that rely on water are vulnerable to drought.

And let's not forget the needs of all Californians, who expect and deserve affordable and safe water when they open the tap.

As our population has swelled to more than 38 million residents, the system for managing our water is antiquated. We need 21st Century water policies that reflect the realities of today. Here are a few key points that President Obama should consider:

*We cannot conserve our way out of this crisis. Californians are among the most environmentally conscious people on the planet. We have been conserving for years; it is disingenuous to suggest we can simply conserve our way to a reliable and affordable water supply.

*We can operate within the law to help refill our reservoirs. The federal and state government have within their power the ability under existing laws and regulations to mandate that we protect our environment, while ensuring that more water be used to refill our reservoirs.

*We need more storage. The last dam in California was built over 30 years ago. Blocking efforts to create more storage is a travesty and an affront to commonsense. The ability to stockpile water in existing and new reservoirs means we will have ample water in drought years to recharge the environment, sustain farms, support businesses and serve our 38 million residents.

*Water is too vital to be held hostage by partisan politics. We are encouraged that rural and urban Californians are coming together to voice support for a bi-partisan effort that revamps our water management system. We also believe Republicans and Democrats should come to terms to ensure that water needs transcend politics.

President Obama and Congress would do well to remember what President Kennedy once said about the nature of crises: "When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity."

Californians have long understood the danger. The time is now to seize the opportunity this water crisis is providing us.

State Sen. Andy Vidak represents Kings, Fresno, Kern and Tulare Counties. Mario A. Guerra is president of the Independent Cities Association, which represents 48 cities and seven million residents in the Los Angeles region and is a member of the Downey City Council.

********** Published: Feb. 20, 2014 - Volume 12 - Issue 45