With Governor Jerry Brown officially declaring that California is in a drought emergency, we have a stark reminder that our current water policies put all Californians at grave risk from reduced access to clean, safe water.

California’s historic drought – with the state struggling with the least rainfall in its 153-year history – is causing millions of dollars of losses on California’s agricultural industry and water-dependent businesses; is having devastating ecological impacts to rivers, lakes and streams, and wildlife throughout the state; and is reducing critical water supplies to many of California’s most vulnerable communities.

It has become abundantly clear that we can no longer solve our 21st century problems by relying on outdated, expensive and environmentally devastating 20th century solutions like dams and water transfers that are contingent on having water flows that are unrealistic in today’s changing climate.

We must instead move towards a water portfolio that relies on regional self-sufficiency and resiliency and the 4R approach – reduce (conservation & efficiency), reuse (rainwater harvesting and graywater use), recycle (water reclamation) & restore (ecosystem restoration).

Such an approach will help safeguard local communities against ongoing droughts; will provide significant green jobs and bolster local economies; will reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as pollution of our rivers, lakes and coastal waters; will stabilize water pricing for local consumers; and will help ensure all California communities have access to safe, clean water.

By reminding California of the catastrophic risks associated with poor water planning, we now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fundamentally change how California manages its water supplies and adopt forward-thinking policies to ensure regional self-sufficiency and resiliency and safeguard local communities and our precious natural resources.

In the face of this crisis, it’s time for our elected officials and all Californians to seize the opportunity to change the way we do business to ensure that we have access to clean, safe water, a healthy environment, and thriving economy for generations to come!

What does the Governor’s Drought Declaration mean for the environment? Read PCL’s analysis (PDF ).