Calif. Water Supply Crisis Affecting Economy

With deep cuts in water deliveries ordered this year to help protect a threatened fish species, the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) said impacts are beginning to ripple across the state and will likely continue until action is taken to improve the sustainability of the state's water supply system.

"For the first time in a long time, California is losing income and jobs because our water supply system is in crisis," ACWA Executive Director Timothy Quinn said. "Every day that goes by without a solution is another day of environmental deterioration and lost water supply."

ACWA member agencies report that court-ordered restrictions on water deliveries through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta are creating drought-like conditions despite the fact that snowpack levels were near normal last month. Runoff from the mountain snowpack is expected to be below average due to dry soil conditions and warm temperatures that evaporated some of the water content in March.

Agencies stand to receive just 35 percent of their requested water deliveries from the State Water Project (SWP), forcing many to dip into dry-year reserves and seek out expensive alternative supply sources where possible. In some cases, reserves already are low following a string of dry years and a 10-day shutdown of the SWP pumps last summer to protect the Delta smelt.

Among the impacts reported to date:

• Communities such as Long Beach have put mandatory conservation programs in place, and many others are ramping up voluntary conservation efforts.

• Decisions on new housing and retail developments in Riverside County are on hold because the necessary water supplies cannot be guaranteed. One of the delayed projects, a major distribution center, was expected to generate 1,000 jobs.

• Growers in northern San Diego County are stumping citrus and avocado trees due to water shortages. Water supply uncertainties and steep increases in water rates may permanently change the face of an agricultural industry that contributes more than $5 billion annually to the local economy.

• The state's largest water wholesaler, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, will increase its water rates by 14 percent next year due in part to the cost of acquiring water to off-set reduced SWP supplies. The rate increases will affect millions of households in Southern California.

• Water agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere are dipping into reserves, which means they will have less water available to meet needs if next year is dry. They also have less water available to replenish groundwater basins that were drawn down in recent dry years.

Quinn said the impacts underscore the urgent need to address the Delta and local supply reliability as part of a comprehensive water solution. The solution must include actions to improve the sustainability of the state's water system so it can meet the needs of the environment and the economy.

The solution also must include substantial investments in conservation, water recycling, local and regional water storage, and desalination to improve local water supplies and reduce pressure on the Delta.

"We have an outdated system that no longer works for species, jobs or local communities," Quinn said. "It's time to invest in the environmental integrity of that system."