A Newsletter about California Water, Land, and People

California People, Politics, and Planning

Our Faith in Water

Everyone wants a reliable water supply. Our daily act of faith: when we turn on our taps, pure and healthful water will flow to our every need. It's good to be for water supply reliability.

California is a pivotal state in national politics, and an economy important to post-Cold War global capitalism. Former Vice-President Al Gore, of course, ran for President in 2000 relying on California as a stronghold of Democratic Party fundraising, particularly in southern California and Silicon Valley in the Bay Area. A reliable water supply for California could mean a reliable money supply for the Democratic Party.

Flooding from Sacramento River at Gridley.
Photo courtesy Water Resources Center Archives,
University of California at Berkeley.

Once water falls as snow and rain, Californians allocate it through a system of water rights. Legally, only the state "owns" water here. Citizens can only obtain legally guaranteed rights to water. As the state's water rights system emerged from the gold rush, statehood, and ensuing economic development, the rights of California's vast plumbing systems - the Central Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP) - became the lowest in seniority for diverting water not already claimed by other more senior diverters.

Thirty-four million people call California home now. Of these, 22 million depend on water from the CVP and SWP, largely in sprawling arid coastal cities. Some 5 million acres of San Joaquin Valley farms are made possible by irrigation water from these projects too.

The state of California expects another 24 million new (and mostly urban and multi-ethnic) residents by 2040, who will want to use water when they arrive. The state's department of water resources forecasts that about 3 million acre-feet of water now used by agriculture will shift to urban uses by 2020.

When dry years arrive, the CVP and SWP are the first to cut deliveries to their customers. And they depend on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta for their water, where they must compete for the water with endangered fish: an unreliable situation.

A key urban water user at the end of the water line is Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley gets about half its water from San Francisco's Tuolumne River system (also known as Hetch Hetchy) and the State Water Project. Semiconductor firms purify tap water for each step of their production processes to cleanse wafers that become computer chips.

"We need high-quality water, and we also need a reliable water supply," says Chris Elias of the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group, which represents the biggest high technology firms in Santa Clara County. "It is integral to maintaining a healthy economy and to protecting the quality of life," although the Valley is also home to more Superfund sites than any place in the U.S. thanks to these same chipmaking processes.


Page 2