Newsom pushes desalination, rain capture, cutting red tape, as California dries out

California anticipates losing 10% of its water supply by 2040.

Updated: August 12, 2022 - 12:52am

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In anticipation of California losing 10% of its water supply by 2040, Gov. Gavin Newsom and state water officials unveiled a multi-pronged plan Thursday to adapt to hotter conditions and bolster the Golden State’s water supply in the coming years.

The 16-page plan outlines goals to target the state’s water supply by developing additional space to capture and store water, diversifying the state’s water portfolio through desalination and reducing water demand. The plan also underlines the importance of accelerating the modernization of California’s water system to replenish the water California will lose due to hotter and drier seasons.

Speaking from a desalination plant in Contra Costa County on Thursday, Newsom told reporters that the plan highlights the “renewed sense of urgency” to address the state’s water supply and sets particular numerical goals and deadlines in anticipation of harsher weather conditions.

“What we are focused on is creating more supply, what we are focused on is creating more water,” Newsom said Thursday. “What we are focusing on are projects exactly like this [desalination project] here in Antioch.”

The plan lays out specific goals in anticipation of the state losing a portion of its water supply over the next two decades. The goals include: developing storage for 4 million acre-feet of water, recycling and reusing a minimum of 800,000 acre-feet of water per year by 2030, reducing water demand in towns and cities by 500,000 acre-feet through conservation by 2030, and pushing forward more projects to capture storm runoff and desalinate ocean water.

State water officials emphasized Thursday the importance of diversifying the state’s water supply as a “hotter and drier” future is fast approaching.

“We have to create new water supplies through recycling and desalination. We have to permanently reduce demand in California,” Carla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said. “We need to invest in how we capture and store water through expanded storage underground and above ground. All of these things are required to help secure California into the future.”

The plan comes after an $8 billion investment into water infrastructure in recent state budgets, which Newsom said will “actualize, not just promote” the plan. He emphasized the state wants to move quickly to fast-track projects by addressing “regulatory thickets,” noting that the state’s permitting process can slow down the momentum of moving the project forward.

“The time to get these damned projects is ridiculous. It’s absurd,” Newsom said.

The governor also addressed conservation efforts on Thursday, saying that the state is moving in the “right direction.” The State Water Resources Control Board announced that water usage in June 2022 was 7.6% lower than June 2020, representing an improvement in conservation that still falls short of Newsom’s call for a voluntary water reduction of 15%.

Newsom – who has made it clear he prefers a localized approach to water conservation as opposed to a statewide mandate – did tell reporters Thursday that if progress stalls, the state will be in a position where they “will have no choice” but to implement mandatory water cutbacks across the spectrum.