California’s Climate Change and Clean Water Problem

Reader Contribution by Kayla Matthews
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Climate change is an issue that scientists warn will have dire and irreversible effects if people don’t work together to mitigate it. That harsh reality applies to the Earth’s inhabitants no matter where they live in the world. But, in California, there’s something making things even more complicated.

The Perceived Choice Between Clean Water and Climate Change Action

More than a million Californians do not have clean water for bathing or drinking. One of the ways state officials plan to deal with that issue is to dip into money reserved for fighting climate change. More specifically, the funds will come from the state’s cap and trade system, which puts a limit on emissions.

Although some activists celebrated the move and assert that having access to clean water is a human right, others are understandably alarmed. They recognize that both clean water and climate change mitigation are essential things to focus on in the months and years ahead. But, they don’t believe in sacrificing one need to put more financial resources toward another.

California Has a Substantial Surplus

A budget report released at the start of 2019 showed that the state has a surplus of more than $21 billion. People understandably wonder, then, why the state’s governor sought to impose billions worth of new taxes — in addition to funding water cleanup efforts via cap and trade revenues meant for climate change action.

However, this would not be the first time that the state would use those cap and trade funds for something other than to fight climate change. The cap and trade revenues go into the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF). Its goal is to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels.

In 2014, California’s state budget allocated $130 million of the GGRF funds to the Strategic Growth Council, which received the money to develop a program called Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities. Accompanying legislation also mandated that 50% of those funds go toward housing for low-income households.

Mixed Feelings About This Latest Usage of Funds

As mentioned above, people are split regarding their feelings on this news to dip into cap and trade funds to help clean up California’s ailing water supply. The budget advisor for California’s Governor Gavin Newsom reportedly tried to answer those who were unhappy with the decision by asserting that it would still help cut emissions indirectly.

He asserted that cleaner water would mean the state’s residents are not as reliant on bottled water brought by trucks, which would thereby reduce emissions. Even so, some people pointed out how that was an excessively creative way to make the decision seem more palatable. Last year, state attorneys wrote the California Legislature an opinion that said any cap and trade money should only get spent on causes that “reasonably relate” to reducing emissions.

Senator Bob Wieckowski, the chair of the subcommittee that oversees the cap and trade program was among those who are fed up with the decision. He pointed out that since there’s only a weak link between clean water and climate change emissions, this decision “further weakens the integrity” of the GGRF program.

However, Kate Gordon, who’s involved with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, supports the use of cap and trade monies in this way. She believes it’s time to stop looking at things in such a segregated way and having separate budgets for climate impact and emissions.

The Cap and Trade Restrictions Will Lift Soon

The people who are upset now about California’s decision will likely need to get used to GGRF funds being used to fund things they may not deem relevant to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. That’s because the climate change law that initially set out to reduce emissions levels to 1980 levels by next year was supposed to expire by 2020 too. However, legislators passed an extension that puts it back into effect until 2030.

Even more notably, the extension specifies that, as of January 1, 2020, the previous limits on spending cap and trade money for purposes only related to slashing emissions will no longer be in place. Then, the likelihood is arguably even greater that the money from cap and trade penalties will ultimately go toward things that don’t directly relate to fighting climate change.

The State Must Take Both Issues Seriously

The scientific community warned that climate change poses a severe threat to the planet and that humanity as a whole faces a narrow timeframe in which to solve the crisis. And, people have responded in a variety of ways as they look for ways to keep the planet sustainable. As one example of what’s possible, one study used underwater drones to collect soil samples from aquaculture sites.

The goal is to see how broad of a reach the enriched soil has for attracting new and additional species. The results could break new ground in water management research. That study relates to the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, Canada, but it’s an example of the innovative ways people look ahead and explore new possibilities in their efforts to safeguard the planet’s future.

Arsenic and nitrate are the biggest water contaminates in California. And, beyond those, it’s not difficult to see how the issue could quickly exacerbate if California continues to have severe drought issues, extremely hot temperatures or wildfires. Climate change could make all of those problems worse while posing challenges related to bringing water to the people who need it.

California’s got a sobering assessment of the expected effects of climate change in 1989. Some people who worked on that report remark that many of the predictions in the document are coming to pass quicker than anticipated and, that the necessary action is too long coming.

Not Easy Problems to Fix

Perhaps the most troubling thing about the issues here is that they do not have straightforward and speedy solutions. Even though California will use financial resources from the GGRF to address the lack of clean water, it’ll almost certainly take years to make meaningful progress. And, many of those affected by the water impurities are in poor communities where people struggle to afford bottled water or take their chances with tap water.

Concerning climate change, even those who have studied the issue for decades know there is not an across-the-board fix. Additionally, as new possibilities get explored, a trial-and-error process will likely be necessary for determining what works and what doesn’t. Determining the best courses of action to take requires time and money, and both of those are not necessarily readily available at the state and national levels.

But, California cannot afford to wait any longer to address either of these issues. And, it’s understandable that many people wonder why the state won’t use some of its surplus to investigate viable options.

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living, sustainable consumption, eco-friendly practices and green energy. In the past, her work has also been featured on Grit, Mother Earth Living, Blue And Green Tomorrow, Dwell and Houzz. To read more from Kayla, follow her productivity and lifestyle blog: Productivity Theory.

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