California is facing a monumental challenge to meet the water demand of its current and projected population. Climate change, drought in California and the Colorado River Basin, legal mitigation in the Owens Valley and Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta, and a rapidly growing population has created a serious water scarcity that will affect every person and business in California this year, particularly Southern Californians. As a result of this, we will all be facing significant water rate increases and water rationing programs being instituted by water districts across the state.
Here are the issues in more detail:
Population Growth –
In a 2005 US Census study, it was projected that by 2030, California’s population will swell to over 46 million people, a 37% increase over the population measured in 2000. 46 million people would also make it the most populous state in the US. Most of this growth is forecasted to land in the central valley and southern California. (Where the demand for water is already high!)
Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado are all predicted to be in the top 15 of the biggest population growth as a percentage compared to their year 2000 numbers. Notably, Nevada and Arizona are expected to increase in population by more than 100%. It is significant to note that all four of these states rely upon the already strained Colorado river for water.
After experiencing two years of drought and the driest spring in recorded history, California’s water reserves are extremely low. This led Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER on June, 2008 to proclaim a condition of statewide drought in California.
Statewide rainfall has been below normal in 2007 and 2008, with many Southern California communities receiving only 20 percent of normal rainfall in 2007, and Northern California this year experiencing the driest spring on record with most communities receiving less than 20 percent of normal rainfall from March through May 2008.
This has also led to critically dry water conditions in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River basins. The statewide runoff forecast for 2008 is estimated to be 41 percent below average.
The Colorado River Basin, an important source of water for many southwestern states including California, has also experienced a record eight-year drought resulting in current reservoir storage throughout the river system reduced to just over 50 percent of total storage capacity.
The counties of El Dorado, Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Diego were witness and victim to these record dry conditions after the devastating fires last year, which resulted in millions of dollars in damages.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta –
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is located east of the San Francisco Bay Area at the confluence of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Rivers. The Delta encompasses 738,000 acres, stretching inland nearly 50 miles. Five rivers flow into the Delta area, accounting for nearly half the snowmelt and runoff of the entire state.The Delta region is host to two of the largest surface water delivery systems in the world! Over two-thirds of the state’s population receives a portion of their drinking water from the Delta.
The Delta is also home to a multitude of fish, wildlife and migratory waterfowl. It is the largest estuary on the west coast, and an important stop on the Pacific Flyway. However, water project operations have impacted native fish populations, and the Delta smelt, once the most populous fish in the estuary, is now on the brink of extinction.
In an attempt to protect the remaining smelt population, Judge Wanger, a federal court judge, ruled on August of 2007, that both the State Water Project and Central Valley Project were operating in violation of the Endangered Species Act, and ordered reductions in the amount of water exported from the Delta. It is estimated that this court order dropped the amount of water that could be drawn from the delta by 50%, compared to previous years.
Climate Change – Drier droughts, wetter winters…
Global warming is a misnomer in that it implies something that is uniform in nature. What is happening to the global climate is very geographically uneven.
As we get rising global average temperatures and the earth gets warmer, it will trigger more evaporation from the soil. So regions that are already naturally dry will tend to get drier. At the same time, higher rates of evaporation, because of global warming, will put more water vapor into the atmosphere, and so areas that are either near large bodies of water or in places where atmospheric dynamics already favor higher rates of precipitation, will tend to get wetter, increasing the chances of flooding downstream.
The more dramatic the swings, the more we need to rely on reserves and efficient water delivery systems in order to survive.
Environmental Mitigation in the Owens Valley –
In 1913, the City of Los Angeles completed an aqueduct from Owens Valley to the City. Once a productive agricultural area, Owens valley was decimated as one by one, the owners finally sold to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and moved on. Owens Lake was dry by the 1930s as streams, springs, and the Lower Owens River feeding into it were dried up. Excessive groundwater pumping in the 1970s dropped the water table further, killing the native vegetation and turning much of the region into a dry, dusty desert.
However, recent court-ordered restoration of Mono Lake, and the Lower Owens River, as well as continuing dust mitigation on the dry Owens Lake bed, lawmakers have ordered that more water needs to stay in the Owens Valley for “in-valley” use than was previously exported to Los Angeles. The L.A. Aqueduct carried only 115,091 acre-feet of water southward to the city in 2007-08, which accounted for a mere 17 percent of the city’s water supply, as opposed to the 62 percent that came from the Eastern Sierra in 2006, according to the final Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Owens Valley Operations Plan for Runoff Year 2007-08.
This has created another area where the state’s water supply has been reduced. Meanwhile, demand for water continues to grow…
What Can We Do?
The problem of not having enough water to meet everyone’s needs is not going to go away – not with rain and not with some government bailout. It is a natural resource that we have severely depleted. With that constraint, our goal must be to try to live within the lowest tier of water allotment that we are given – both because of cost to us each month on our water bill, but also because of our global situation.
BUT, I’m optimistic about this issue and I know there is a LOT we can all do! Improved efficiency and increased conservation are the cheapest, easiest, and least destructive ways to meet California’s future water needs. It is estimated, that California can save 30% of its current urban water use with cost-effective water-saving solutions.
Existing technologies are available to greatly reduce urban water use without reducing the goods and services we desire. Our mission at MyWaterFuture.com is to help everyone find ways to reduce water and money through education and by offering the best water conservation technologies on the market.
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