The citizens of Southern California are waking up to the fact that this new, post-recession economy has shed tens of thousands of jobs, many of which will likely be gone from our community forever. According to statistics compiled by the state, unemployment in the greater Los Angeles area is now approaching 13%. Thousands of people trained for and counted on these lost jobs for their livelihoods.
It's a scary, sad, painful, and dangerous time -- for us as individuals, and as a community. But the quicker we realize that the structure of the economy has changed, the quicker we can help people by capturing and investing in the new opportunities the crisis presents.
Co-incidental with the new economy is the new water reality that faces Los Angeles
, the Southwest
, and the world at large. Free and cheap water is a thing of the past. Though the state legislature appears to be inching towards a water deal designed to revive the failing heart of California's State Water Project, the Sacramento Delta, the trouble negotiators have had putting together a deal tells us that the water it produces will come with conditions, delays, and additional costs.
But there is plenty of water to be had that can help meet many of our needs. It is the fresh and pure rainwater that we currently throw away after it falls on our cities. And its possible that a city-wide rainwater harvesting, storage and conservation system could be locally manufactured and deployed quicker than other technologies...while creating more jobs.
Such a rainwater harvesting system can save very large amounts of that precious water. According to several major new studies
, we can in California meet a significant amount of our cities’ water supply needs by investing in green water infrastructure in our cities. SB 790,
a bill introduced by Senator Fran Pavley, sponsored by TreePeople, and signed this month by the Governor, is an important step in this direction.
But to harvest that rain water, we need to invest in people, and in jobs. The new jobs are in urban watershed engineering, design, construction and management (see examples from the EPA here
). The opportunity is to create a new local, resilient, water supply and distribution system that would bolster what's existing, giving us protection from water scarcity, urban flooding and stormwater pollution while bringing additional savings and benefits in energy and waste management.
This approach is known by various terms, including green infrastructure
, or Low Impact Development
. Its benefits also include mitigation of the urban heat island effect
, crowding, and other urban ills. Additionally, it takes pressure off the fragile and compromised rivers, bays, and estuary ecosystems in northern Califronia and throughout the western United States. This "sustainable path
" approach could employ tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, around the country..
It is going to take vision and courage to get there, and we must act quickly.
California lawmakers have been called into special session to decide on billions of dollars to meet the current and future water crisis. But they are about to make decisions that for the most part, just extend the mistakes of the past…and miss the critical juncture and opportunity that stands before us.
They agree that we need new storage. But for the most part they're thinking dams and rural aquifers, including spending $3.3 billion
on a single new dam proposed by the Bureau of Reclamation on the San Joaquin River. They should look again at the significant bounty of water and jobs that the massive investment of our public funds could yield if we moved to develop and conserve urban water resources. A comparable investment in water infrastructure in our cities would result in nearly 70,000 jobs, according to this study
from the University of Massachusetts.
Will legislators make a choice to invest billions in old grey solutions that produce no ongoing jobs? Or will they invest in the new blue-green approach that will solve the water problem while creating a whole new economy built around the harvesting and conservation of rainwater?