Drought….The Good News and The Not So Good News
January 31, 2014Last week, Governor Jerry Brown issued his second drought declaration. His first was issued during his tour as California's Governor in the mid-1970s. In issuing the declaration, he cited that California was in its driest year on record and that he was asking for a voluntary 20% reduction in water use. Finally, he stated that if things got worse then he would use his powers as the state's chief executive to require mandatory reductions in water use.
This of course resulted in a flurry of phone calls to our offices. Our growers who had weathered the 1990-1992 drought and the 2009-2010 regulatory drought, wanted to know if the Valley Center Municipal Water District (VCMWD), would once again ask for mandatory cuts backs and impose a severe over-use penalty structure.
First, the Good News.
Shortly after the Governor issued his drought declaration, the Metropolitan Water District, or MWD (regional water importer serving six southern California counties, including San Diego) and the San Diego County Water Authority or SDCWA (regional water importer and wholesaler to 24 member agencies, including VCMWD) issued statements to the effect that, for at least this year, normal water supplies would be available. Only voluntary conservation will be requested for calendar 2014.
So is there a drought, or is there not a drought? There is a drought, but it impacts different parts of the state differently. For southern California and San Diego County the impact of the drought is lessened by the fact that we have three major imported water systems and sources: the Los Angeles' Owens Valley Aqueduct, MWD's Colorado River Aqueduct, and the State Water Project.
Further, since the 1990-1992 Drought, significant investments have been made by MWD and SDCWA in developing additional resources, including water conservation, surface and groundwater storage, recycled wastewater; brackish groundwater reclamation, the IID Water Transfer, the All-American/Coachella Canal Lining Conservation Program, the Emergency Storage Project, the soon to be completed San Vicente Dam raise, and the under construction Carlsbad Seawater Desalination Project. All of these projects add up to and will continue to provide a much more stable and reliable water supply, more drought resistant if you will, for Southern California and San Diego County.
At this point, some may start to feel "drought survivor guilt." This tendency may increase as the stories start to come forth about other regions of the state and individual communities being hard hit economically by the drought.
As 2014 unfolds residents of southern California and San Diego County should realize that the drought impact is less severe here only because of their investments in multiple imported and local supplies as well as new surface water storage facilities. Water is more expensive locally than in many parts of California because it reflects the cost of building, maintaining and replacing the massive water importation and storage systems as well as the development of alternative local supplies that serve us today and well into the future. The dividend of, or return on investment, is a more reliable and drought resistant water supply.
VCMWD customers should not get too comfortable with this as it will always be important to use water wisely, especially so in 2014. Further, if the winter of 2014-2015 is also dry, calendar 2015 could be a whole different story for southern California and San Diego County.
Now, the Not So Good News.
If you were counting, this is the third major drought or water supply shortage scenario to hit California since the mid-1970s. There has also been a number of water supply near misses interspersed between the formal drought declarations. Weather-wise, California careens between boom and bust rainfall, snow-pack, and resulting available water supplies.
In the midst of the current drought buzz, forgotten is that fact that the 2010-2011 winter period was extremely wet. Reservoirs were filled and water supply restrictions imposed in 2009 and 2010 were lifted. However, not even three full years later, we are in what is shaping up to be one of if not the driest years on record.
To make things even more dire, the climate change models predict that in the future, California will regularly have even less snow pack, more intense rainfall events and even more severe swings in weather patterns.
While MWD and the SDCWA have made significant investments in regional water supply reliability, the same cannot be said about the backbone State Water Project (SWP). This system, which serves about 40 percent of the San Diego Region's water needs, was built in the 1960s and 1970s. Adequate then, after 40-years of operation the SWP is now a broken and unreliable source of supply. Multi-billion dollar investments are needed to build more surface storage and fix the hub of the SWP, the Sacramento - San Joaquin Delta. Without these improvements, the SWP will continue to decline in its ability to reliably meet the needs of the 25 million Californians and hundreds of thousands of acres of Central Valley farmland.
2014 is a Pivotal Year
2014 is an important year. A multi-year process entitled the Day-Delta Conservation Program, or BDCP, may conclude and pave the way for a $25 billion – plus investment to restore the San Joaquin–Sacramento Delta. At stake in this effort is the ability to reliably move SWP water to the pumps at the south end of the Delta for export to communities in the Bay Area, Central Valley, Central Coast and southern California. Also, an $11 billion plus water bond is scheduled for the November ballot which, if approved by the voters, will provide funds for water storage projects as well as some support for the BDCP effort.
Without these projects, or "investments," the SWP will become less and less reliable, and California, its citizens and economy will continue to bounce between ample water supplies and drought induced shortages.