Capturing stormwater to deal with California’s drought is complicated
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Californians are still recovering from the wave of powerful storms that swept through the state over the last two weeks – even as they prepare for more.
But despite the massive rainfall, the U.S. Drought Monitor says most of California remains in a state of extreme or severe drought. That’s reigniting a long-running debate about how California captures and stores water.
The reality of climate change is now on display in the state not just during peak fire season, but year-round. The recent storms are the latest example of what scientists are calling “weather whiplash”.
“We need to be preparing for the next floods during the drought,” said climate expert Dustin Mulvaney, who teaches at San Jose State University. “And we need to be preparing for the next drought during this big rainy sequence, because we’ll forget otherwise.”
In Southern California, the LA River is looking like an actual river — its concrete banks notwithstanding –and not a trickle as it so often does. But this region’s waterways are designed to take much of the rainwater out to sea to limit flooding.
Various efforts to redesign those systems to conserve water are already underway. Matt Horton of the Milken Institute said doing so throughout the state is critical.
“What we really need is a 21st-century water project that brings all this together in a more vital and accelerated timeline,” he said.
Horton said more predictable and long-term sources of funding are essential. As it stands now, government officials say building the infrastructure to fully capture stormwater in California will take decades.
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