Reporting

September 12, 2014 by Ed Coghlan

Online game lets Californians quarterback state water policy


Next10 shares some eye-opening water statistics before users begin the Water Challenge. (Credit: Next10)

Water is a complicated and chronic issue in California. Truthfully, most of us don't understand it very well.

However, there's little doubt that Californians are paying more attention to the issue of water. Three years into a drought, we are using less of the precious resource. This week, the State Water Resources Control Board reported that Californians consumed 17 billion fewer gallons of water in July than we did in the same month in 2013.  

So that's a start.

"People need to understand where the water comes from, where it goes and who uses it."

Those are the words of Noel Perry who runs an organization called Next 10--a nonpartisan organization which is focused on innovation and the intersection between the economy, the environment and quality of life issue for all Californians.

"Our major goal is to educate," he said in an interview with CA Fwd this week.

So his organization has unveiled the California Water Challenge, an online simulation tool that lets users decide how the state should overcome its water shortage. In other words, you get to develop your own water policy.

"We believe the challenge would be insight for any Californian," he said."It helps Californians understand the tough choices ahead and the strategies we'll be asked to consider."

It focuses on six major areas:

  1. Urban Demand
  2. Agricultural Demand
  3. Water Supply
  4. Water Recycling
  5. Urban Stormwater
  6. Water Storage

While the Challenge provides considerable information about choices that can be made in each of those areas, and the costs of those choices, it also lets us consider some strategy options. Among those include retiring irrigated farmlands, building seawater desalination plants, repairing and upgrading water infrastructure and expanding cloud seeding projects. Many of the strategies highlighted in the Challenge are either currently being considered or have been considered in the past by state and/or local officials.

After working through the policy questions, you'll be asked some pointed questions about current water issues including:

  • Adopting a $7.5 billion water bond (Proposition 1) for water conservation, recycling and storage projects
  • Adopting mandatory reductions in water use for residents and businesses
  • Fining water wasters

The media coverage this week has driven traffic to the Next 10 website, but Perry said at this point he won't be releasing the results of the Challenge or the survey questions.

"However," Perry pointed out, "everyone who takes the challenge can send their strategy to friends, to elected officials and others using social media. We are encouraging that."

The California Water Challenge is a good idea. It gets us thinking about water, learning about it and maybe even doing something about it.

Solving the problem of California's water needs in the 21st century isn't going to happen through a wet winter (looking less likely) or by passing the water bond.

At the recent California Economic Summit Capitol Day in Sacramento, the water issue was front and center on the agenda. The discussion centered around making certain that drought investments put California on a path to water sustainability.

There's a price tag. The director of California's Department of Water Resources, Mark Cowin told us in a video interview the state would need $200 billion to create a sustainable water system. So, the more we all know, the better decisions the state can make.

One final note: The Next 10 website asks you to take a water quiz and asks some basic questions--the answers to which may surprise you.

We don't want to give you any hints to the answers, but when you answer the question about how much it costs to produce an egg, it may give you pause before you order that next omelette.

Categories: Infrastructure, Water

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