Desalination sounds like a solution for many communities struggling through California's prolonged drought, but officials and residents should first turn to a slew of less costly options: Conservation, capturing rainwater and using recycled water, among others, Dr. Newsha K. Ajami told a crowd of business people Friday in San Luis Obispo.
“There’s plenty of water to save,” said Ajami, director of urban water policy with Stanford University’s Water in the West and ReNUWIt initiatives. “From the moment you turn on your shower to get the water hot ... there are so many opportunities to not use high-quality water and conserve more water.”
Desalination, she said, should be used as a last resort after a community has exhausted other options.
Ajami spoke at the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce’s fourth annual State of the State event Friday, which also featured state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, whose district includes San Luis Obispo County, and former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed.
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The conversation focused on water and the drought, pension reform and legislative efforts in Sacramento.
Ajami said the drought has been helpful in some ways — it has increased efforts to manage groundwater, for example, and offers an opportunity for Californians to work more collaboratively on finding solutions to manage water resources for future generations.
And while the state’s population has increased, Californians’ water use has remained fairly steady the last 34 years, she said, in part because technology has improved and appliances have become more efficient.
“Do as much as you can,” she said, “and get rid of your lawns, too.”
When the panel was asked how to balance water conservation and housing, Reed said, “We’ve proved over the last couple of decades that we can handle more people. Per capita (water) use has gone down, and the number of people has gone up.”
“I think you can do both,” he said. “It should not be an excuse to raise the bridge ... but it has to be managed.”
Monning said various water users need to stop blaming each other and realize that “we’re all part of the problem, and we all need to be part of the solution. And there’s not a single solution.”
He reported on positive news from the state Capitol, adding that he has enjoyed a close working relationship with Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, who represents San Luis Obispo County.
They are currently working together on legislation that would address issues regarding unlicensed contractors.
Reed, meanwhile, was termed out last year as San Jose’s mayor but is continuing to work on a pension reform measure for the 2016 ballot that would give local governments more control to negotiate future contracts.
He pushed for a similar measure with other California mayors in 2014, but it did not move ahead because he disagreed with wording approved by state Attorney General Kamala Harris.
“The bad news in California is it’s virtually impossible for local governments to do much in changes to pensions or retirement benefits,” Reed said.
He also told San Luis Obispo attendees about a few open government reform steps that he advocated for in San Jose: Post meeting agendas 10 days before a meeting instead of the three days required by state law, and post online updates on labor negotiations.
“Stop doing policy by surprise,” he said. “Don’t let your elected officials get away with cash-based budgets, because it's easy for us to balance a budget on a cash basis while ignoring things that are unfunded, like road maintenance or unfunded liabilities.”