California The other shortage: Water : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

B E E E D I T O R I A L S -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The other shortage: Water woes overshadowed by power crisis

(Published April 13, 2001)

California is in for a dose of dry reality this year after a record string of six consecutive wet winters. Absent a soggy April, precipitation likely will total somewhere in the range of 70 percent of normal. If the state's electricity situation weren't such a mess, legislators would likely be taking more note of what's happening in the world of water. The two precious commodities react differently to times of shortage. When the power grid runs low on juice, managers of the utilities wield considerable authority in deciding whose lights stay on, and whose go dark. When the aqueducts run low, officials' hands are tied by a thicket of water rights and environmental laws. The net result isn't random rolling blackouts, but isolated pockets of severe pain.

For most (but not all) residents and farmers north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, water deliveries won't be curtailed. Shortages will show up by and large south of the Delta, where supplies are constrained by the ability to pump water without harming fish. Some farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley might receive only 40 percent of their regular supplies via the aqueduct of the Central Valley Project, leaving them to scramble for other sources. One alternative, pumping groundwater, might be prohibitively expensive because of that other resource problem relating to electricity. Pumping costs might double this summer.

Southern California might receive only 30 percent of its "entitlement" from the State Water Project, yet most south of the Tehachapis likely will be oblivious to this shortage. That's because the Metropolitan Water District has tried to diversify its supplies through expanding local groundwater and reclamation projects, and because Southern California should get a full dose from the Colorado River.

The fish aren't happy about things either. Water officials have tried to put themselves on a budget of sorts for curtailing pumping from the Delta. They used up much of this budget before the winter run of salmon could migrate from spawning grounds out through the Delta. With their budget running out, they turned up the pumps. More than 19,000 young salmon have been killed there so far, three times as many as biologists consider acceptable, and perhaps 6 percent of the entire juvenile population of this endangered species.

Six wet winters have helped mask these unresolved conflicts in our water system. Yet this year the conflicts are showing above the water level, even in a year when nature's dose of precipitation wasn't all that low. That tells a lot about what the future has in store for California if it fails to heed the warning signs.

-- Martin Thompson (, April 13, 2001

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