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While Drought Compels California to Take Action, Rest of the Country Shouldn’t Wait | Commentary

While the rest of the country may only think about climate change during an extreme weather event or as something our children are going to have to deal with, my home state of California is already facing the effects of climate change and is working tirelessly to deal with its effects. From reduced snowpack to a rising sea level, warming temperatures will continue to strain our state’s water supply and threaten millions of acres of farmland.

Well into our fourth year of drought, mountains with snow that would normally reach six feet high this time of year are completely bare, wells have nearly dried up and fields in some of the most productive agricultural land in the country lay barren.

The current drought has been a wake-up call for California, but it should be for the rest of the nation as well. California is the world’s eighth largest economy and, as the country’s largest producer of agricultural products, California literally feeds America. Much has been said about how much water it takes to produce an almond or water a lawn. While we all need to cut back wherever we can, conservation is only part of the answer. This is a complex problem in need of a comprehensive solution.

In order to deal with the current crisis and preserve our limited water resources for generations to come, states, localities and the federal government must work together to increase efficiency, invest in new technologies and water infrastructure, and find innovative financing solutions to maximize available dollars.

It is for these reasons that I co-sponsored the Water in the 21st Century Act, which provides smart, cost-effective investments in proven policies such as water efficiency and recycling. This bill also provides new finance tools that promote successful practices such as water reuse and storage.

Proven programs such as WaterSmart grants should also be made a priority. Our local water agencies have a long track record of innovation in water conservation. These grants provide vital financial assistance for pilot and demonstration projects that help our communities provide an adequate water supply.

Finally, we have to find creative ways to pay for our water infrastructure needs. California has $44.5 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs over the next 20 years and another $29.9 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs over the same period. We should expand public-private partnerships and tap private capital to meet the growing water infrastructure gap, and we should consider removing the prohibition of coupling tax-exempt bonds with low-interest federal loans from the Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Act.

When it comes to water in California, we know that we need to make every drop count. And when it comes to paying for vital water infrastructure projects, we need to make every dollar count.

In California, we allowed this problem to reach a critical point, but the rest of the country should learn from our mistakes and begin taking the necessary steps to prepare for the effects of environmental changes. Whether it is rising tides along the coasts or vulnerable agricultural economies in the Midwest, now is the time to invest in the necessary technology and infrastructure to preserve our natural resources and protect the livelihoods upon which they depend.

The wet season is over in California. It won’t be until October before we have any hope of the drought ending. Regardless of whether it ends this year, Californians and Americans have to contend with a new normal. As our natural resources become more strained, now is the time to take action.

Rep. Norma J. Torres is a Democrat from California.

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