It was the early 70’s. I was probably no more than 10 years old. It was December, I remember that, because I wanted to go down to Whitefront to finish my holiday shopping. It was a Saturday and the only way I had of traveling the 4 miles there and back was by bicycle. Back then it was not a problem. Kids were riding their bikes everywhere. The only thing different about this day was the rain, and by rain I mean downpour. Constant. Incessant. Over the top rain. The kind of rain where the manhole at the bottom of a steep hill blew off and the plume of water went 6 plus feet in the air, kind of rain. I waited until it lightened up but that was just a ploy. Old man Thunderstorm caught me just a few minutes later and laid into me like my parochial school teachers did when I tried out those new words Bobby taught me in class. I can still see the rain, buckets of it running down the street. It was the most water I had ever seen in one place at any one time. Before or since.
I am writing about rain and water again because it is the most endangered resource we have in the West. Many of you have read about how dry the Colorado River is before it finishes its run to Mexico. Complex negotiations by competing water authorities from the headwaters in Northern Colorado on through to Lake Mead and Las Vegas; and beyond. Most of you have seen Chinatown, the movie, with Jack Nicholson, which tells a fictional tale about the water wars in the early 20th century that led to the construction of the Hoover Dam. (Actually, I think that I will re-watch that today.) The water you see, was needed so that Los Angeles could grow. Water for construction. Water for businesses. Water for new homes.
There is one conversation, here in Vallejo, where I think everyone will agree with me on the topic. The topic of growth. I say that most of us want it here. We want to see Vallejo flourish. We want new investment. We all want our condition to improve. Well, as we have seen with Los Angeles, we need water to grow. That idea may seem a little big to get our collective arms around it at first so let me share another old adage I picked up at Culinary School.
A working man, after putting in extra effort on at work, received a well-deserved bonus. He and his wife were saving for a house so he put the bulk of it towards a down payment but kept a little for a treat. He had never before been able to take his wife out to a fancy restaurant so they made plans for the coming Saturday night. After seating, the man looked over the menu for the most expensive item he could find. It was a 32 ounce steak with all the trimmings. His wife, knowing that her husband traditionally did not overstuff himself asked, “Honey, how are you going to eat such a large steak?”
“One bite at a time.”
We have a water problem here in the West that we need to take a bite out of. We have designed laws that reflect the kind of thunderstorms I experienced as a youth. In a recent conversation with a water engineer at The Solano County Water Agency (SCWA), my conversational compatriot shared this thought. “It is like we consider water a bad thing. All we do is make plans to get rid of it.” Consider the phrase, ‘100 Year Flood.’ It is an important concept in planning and building in managing heavy water runoff from 100 year storm events. We have all seen the damage that flooding can do on TV. Mudslides, standing water, molding drywall, and the occasional member of the livestock family stuck in a tree.
That can still happen in California, when we have a monstrous rain event; and we should still consider the effects it will have. But instead of treating water like a bad thing, I say we treat it like our working man’s bonus, with a slight adaption of the adage. Put some in savings and order up a big steak. You may also be aware of is how our farmers have been pumping more and more ground water to irrigate crops. This, surprisingly, has caused the Central Valley to sink by measurable inches over the past decade. We have been spending our savings. UC Davis has been studying how to recharge these underground aquifers. Putting water back into our savings account. This is one of the trimmings on the big steak that I am talking about.
Where is all this going Tom? In Vallejo we own our water. We own a number of lakes outright with water rights to Lake Berryessa and, I think, the Delta. We also have our own waste water treatment plant. The place where we send all of our bad water. This unique situation of controlling our own water was put in place when the Navy was in town. They, the Navy, new how vital a resource water is to their operations. So they helped establish water security for Vallejo. Our own Chinatown story, kinda, well, maybe not so dramatic. But they did put us in a position to manage our growth. Today’s drought, along with the current pandemic, has put us in a unique position. One where we have money to spend on water infrastructure improvement. Sexy right? I mean I got goosebumps just writing that sentence. NOT!
It may not be interesting and it is certainly not sexy; but at least it is expensive! Vallejo has received a grant from the Federal Government through the American Rescue Plan Act. Thanks to efforts from our Congressman Mike Thompson, Vallejo received about $26 million dollars in a onetime grant. The first round of staff recommendations are going to council soon representing half, or about $13 million. City staff member Felicia Flores has been in charge of community outreach on ways to spend this money, and has done a tremendous job. She has been both responsive and kind with the few questions and suggestions that I have sent to her.
In addition, the State Government is providing matching grant funding for use in Regional Water Security Issues. The drought has prompted our legislature to draft a grant bill to fund water infrastructure improvements on a regional level. More information can be found here if you are interested: Regional Water Management Grant.
My suggestion here is to get COV Water, Flood and Waste Water, both GVRD and the School District (both who consume extremely large amounts of water for irrigation,) and the SCWA to form either a Joint Powers Authority or a 2 x 2 Commission to meet and move forward on supplying funding, developing policy and enacting improvements to:
- Provide clean recycled water for irrigation of our parks and public lands. (Reducing demand on fresh water.)
- Considering well water for irrigating public lands. (Here in Vallejo we are so close to the bay that our water table usually stays pretty high. And since we do not have major farming here in town, using this water would not produce the same effects as the Central Valley.)
- Consider permaculture practices on public lands that promote groundwater recharge instead of forcing water into our overtaxed storm water system.
- Promote rain water retention practices in our residential neighborhoods to also lessen the storm water runoff.
I have placed my idea here on the City of Vallejo website. Please, please, let us take the first bite of this big steak together. Please take a minute and vote for greater water security. REGIONAL WATER SECURITY
Until Next time,