Drought Adds to California Concerns

Amidst the culminating state budget crisis and the national financial crisis, Southern California is also facing a significant water crisis.
The two years of drought, followed by a very dry spring, have left water reserves running dangerously low in the face of peak fire season and the already fragile economy.
Following what the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has recorded as the worst fire season in the state’s history, water shortages are ominous, especially with the possibility of dry winds in October, a month notorious for record forest fires.
The State Water Project (SWP), the nation’s largest state-built water and power development and conveyance system, which provides water supplies for 23 million Californians, is suffering due to the drought. SWP, which controls the water distribution from Northern to Southern California, is finding water transportation increasingly difficult.
The lack of available water has impacted California’s agricultural industry and therefore the economic situation. Projects have been terminated due to the unstable guarantee of water. The California Department of Water Resources reports an estimated $259.8 million loss in underplowed crops this year.
“Southern California is at the bottom of the pipeline,” said Shannon Reed of the Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD).
IRWD purchases water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), and sells it to the city of Irvine. After recognizing the drought and water shortage that Southern California is facing, MWD has voiced its intentions to cut back on water allocations to IRWD and other water suppliers as soon as March 2009.
“Because we are in a drought, there are a lot of environmental issues involving fish, so the state will pump less water so that they will not kill the fish,” Reed said. “We are getting about 20 percent less water from the State Water Project.”
The drought is also affecting the Colorado River, another primary source of water for Southern California. “The Colorado River is … not providing enough water as it used to,” Reed said.
In order to battle the increasing water shortage, Southern Californians will be facing rising water costs and mandatory conservation of water.
“It will get worse; there is less water and the problems are going to go on,” Reed said. “It’s not to be resolved over night … it’s going to take at least five to ten years to find something … viable for the environment.”
The impending situation has rendered maximizing conservation efforts critical.
“The UC Irvine campus uses over 635 million gallons of domestic water every year,” said Paul Wingco, UCI Campus Energy manager. “I believe the effects of the water shortage will be a possible increase in water rates. That would affect our cost and utilities budget.”
The UCI campus is pushing for more water conservative solutions to battle the water depletion by using recycled water on campus and installing facilities that use less water overall.
“We are doing these in phases. We are planning to eventually replace all campus fixtures to conserve water,” Wingco said. “We have been asked to conserve as much as we can. We’ll always try to be water efficient.”