For the past year, there has been a lot of optimism surrounding the potential relief from the five-year drought that El Niño could bring to California. But though we have seen our rivers swell and our mountains capped with snow, the precipitation from El Niño is not enough to provide a long-term solution to California's water crisis.

California's water woes are not simply from a lack of rainfall and changes in the climate; they exist because of a fundamental lack of infrastructure that even in times of record rainfall is not sufficient for our state's needs.

Just as we are seeing our highways overwhelmed with traffic and bridges' structural integrity compromised, California's water infrastructure for capture, storage, delivery and filtration has been neglected for decades.

Our current water system is not able to adequately service our population and our industries.

While some in the Legislature believe that we need to further regulate our water usage, I believe the true solution is to invest in our water infrastructure.

Imagine if the solution to our packed highways was government regulation of when and where you could drive -- there would be revolt. Most would instead argue that we need to expand our transportation system to facilitate the growth of cars on the road.

So far, government regulations have failed to solve the water crisis as well. The amount of water that our federal and state regulators have allowed to wash away into the Pacific Ocean is startling.


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According to the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, since 2012 we have lost 2,362,000 acre-feet of water. To give you a sense of how much water that actually amounts to, one acre-foot of water is 325,851 gallons. That means that in the past four years, California has lost 769,000,000,000 gallons of water -- yes that's 769 billion, with a B, gallons of water.

That water would have been enough to provide 5,271,644 four-person families the water they need for a year or enough to irrigate 590,500 acres of fallowed farmland. California's Central Valley was once an idyllic green farmland that produced 2 billion pounds of food, but today it is home to thousands of Californians who no longer have running water in their houses.

While the drought has meant shorter showers and a browning lawn for most Californians, thousands of families in the Central Valley are forced to drive to their neighborhood church to take a shower and can't flush their toilets at home. I lived in better conditions while serving in the Army in Iraq during wartime. I am appalled that in 2016, we have families in such squalor in California. It is unacceptable.

The 769 billion gallons that we have washed away could have filled most of our reservoirs to the brim, including:

  • Millerton Lake: 1.3 million acre-feet

  • Pine Flat: 1 million acre-feet

  • Folsom Lake: 1.2 million acre-feet

  • San Luis Reservoir: 2 million acre-feet

    To make the situation even worse, this problem is rapidly expanding outside of the Central Valley. Our state's aquifers are approaching complete utilization, which is causing our land to sink. Geologists say that if this persists, the aquifers could collapse, and once that happens, they can never be refilled nor used again. To add to this already cataclysmic situation, if the land under the aqueduct drops, it could crack and damage our aqueducts beyond repair. This would completely cut off Southern California from its water supply.

    It is beyond time for the Legislature and the administration to put forward sensible water policy that prioritizes our people and manages our water resources in a responsible manner. We must recharge our aquifers, build more storage, enhance our filtration, and expand our delivery.

    Even with this terrible drought, we have sufficient water to meet most of our needs and priorities while maintaining the flows in the Delta required to keep that vital ecosystem healthy.

    Devon Mathis is a member of the California Assembly.