Members of local water agencies and economic boards gathered Tuesday morning to tackle a looming, difficult question: What can be done to weather the drought, given that the current approach isn't working?
The East Bay Leadership Council and the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce held a summit to discuss the region's water supply crisis.
East Bay's water retailers are in a tough spot this year. The years-long drought has complicated their existing plans for how they normally received water, and not all retailers are getting the water they need from their current suppliers.
Locally, water retailers in Pleasanton, Livermore and Dublin buy their water from the Zone 7 Water Agency, and the retailers then sell to homes and businesses. A big problem is Zone 7 buys its water from a faltering state project that hasn't been supplying enough water to meet demand -- snowfall is the key to the project's water supply, and there's been little snowfall during the drought.
The fact that California is growing -- increasing demand for water -- and that climate change is altering the way the state's weather works compounds the problem. Experts also touched upon a key, if unsettling point: Periods of drought may be the new normal, and agencies have to prepare for that possibility.
Newsha Ajami, director of Urban Water Policy at Stanford University, said the plans water agencies made 50 years ago aren't holding up to today's demands.
"Some of the assumptions we made on that complicated system are not working anymore," she said.
So, what can local agencies do to make sure homes, businesses and farmers have the water they need?
Speakers at the summit focused on diversifying supply, rethinking demand and encouraging partnerships to tear down bureaucratic walls that complicate the problem.
Since retailers feel Zone 7's water source isn't reliable, various water retailers are looking to supplement their water needs by building reservoirs, building pipelines to buy water from northern areas of California or creating a desalination plant in the San Francisco Bay, among other ideas.
Speakers discussed the pros and cons of some options, emphasizing there may be better options than building new infrastructure, such as partnering with agencies that already have infrastructure in place.
B.J. Miller, former vice chairman of the California State Water Resources Control Board, encouraged water retailers to pursue solutions in their own backyard, rather than buying water from far away. He said two of the most important tools for any water retailer nowadays is deal-making and public education.