State Water Supplies Remain at a Trickle

Katrina Kovalik

Many California communities haven’t felt the full force of a real drought. Especially not here in Orinda where every time we turn on the faucet or jump in the pool we are taking our readily-available water for granted.

Despite the torrential downpour in mid-October, California’s water deficiency is still creating serious problems for Californians as the state congress leaves the drought issue unresolved for the third consecutive year.

Although 2006 was a year with above average reservoir surplus, it ended with an unusually low snowpack runoff. Consequently, according to California’s

Department of Water Resources, the following year had only 78% of the average storage of water in reservoirs while 2008 had a mere 57%.

This year has a slightly more optimistic outlook than did last year with a tentative 68% water storage so far, despite an uncharacteristically dry January.

Although water rationing has been used sporadically in different counties and water districts, California lawmakers have not come up with a solid plan to resolve California’s water supply shortage.

At one point in early October, Governor Schwarzenegger threatened Congress with a mass veto of over 700 bills if the legislature did not come up with an agreement on the water problem.

Many solutions have been proposed but each proposal has faced strong opposition due to a high degree of factionalism facing water issues.

Heated debates have ensued between environmentalists, agriculturalists, industrialists and even owners of private residences who just want to water their lawns.

California’s inability to combat the drought crisis is causing severe damage to the state’s main industry: agriculture. Each year California’s agricultural industries bring in about $31.8 billion, more than any other state’s revenue in the nation.

Environmentalists are also up in arms because diversion of waterways is endangering certain aquatic species such as smelt and salmon. One proposal by Schwarzenegger to construct a peripheral canal around the delta could possibly endanger smelt populations, but would ensure water delivery to Southern California.

Due to poorly executed attempts to take water from local resources, waterways have been damaged and the Obama administration has deemed the San Francisco Bay and the Delta nationally important waterways in need of restoration.

Desalination plants produce clean drinking water out of salt-water resources, such as the bay, and would be one possible solution to California’s present and future water shortages.

According to Executive Officer of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Control Board Bruce Wolfe, California’s water districts are trying to find a backup water supply that is sustainable.

“It makes sense that they’re looking out the window at the ocean and saying, ‘Well, look at all that water,’” said Wolfe in the San Francisco Chronicle.

A number of Bay Area water districts including the Contra Costa Water District and EBMUD have agreed to collaborate on running the Bay Area Desalination Project, which is only in its pilot testing stage.

Desalination plants have the potential to prevent or lessen the effects of future California droughts by creating surplus water storage. They would also ensure emergency water supplies during seismic and other disasters.

Some also commend desalination efforts because they would enlarge California’s available water supply in order to sustain its growing population.

Critics of the plan predict that an increased water supply would draw in a larger, and in their eyes, unwelcome, population. According to the 2000 census, California’s population is just below 34 million people and is definitely still growing.

Besides creating clean water, desalination plants are also highly expensive and consume large amounts of energy, thereby producing more greenhouse gas emissions. Unless other renewable energy sources can be applied to power the plants, this solution would go against California’s Energy Policy Act of 2005 and California ’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 which both aim to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Desalination plants are only one of many possible solutions to California ’s water storage issues. Meanwhile, the state congress is still debating proposals for a unified effort to combat the shortage.