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California’s Water Supply Packing San Diego a One-Two Punch

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Aired 4/19/09

(Photo: Lake Mead is seen in the distance behind boats in the dry marina. Because the water at the lake isn't being replenished as fast as it's being used, water managers are now working to come up with plans to combat the effects of continued population growth, drought and a dwindling supply of water from the Colorado River. Ethan Miller/Getty Images )

The future of California's water supply is here now.  Many areas of the state are dealing with effects of a one-two punch. Cutbacks in water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and lack of rain and snow. Water from the Delta make up about two-thirds of Southern California's imported water. KPBS Environmental Reporter Ed Joyce has more on the state's water woes.

The shortage of rain and cutbacks in water supplies prompted The Association of California Water Agencies to launch an advertising c38aign.

C38aign: California's water, vital to our state's character economy and environment is in crisis.

The Association is made up of public agencies responsible for 90 percent of the water delivered in the state.

C38aign: Not enough rain and snow, not enough places to store water or channels to deliver it.

Tight water supplies are expected to be even tighter when less water is pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to protect an endangered fish. The Delta supplies water to more than two-thirds of the state including San Diego. The other source of San Diego's water supply, the Colorado River Basin, is in the eighth year of drought. Dennis Cushman is the Assistant General Manager for the San Diego County Water Authority . He says Delta cutbacks and the dry water year make conservation critical.

Cushman: If 2008 turns out to be the second year of a multi-year drought then we're going to be facing even more serious challenges next year. And overlay on top of that judicial restrictions on how much water can be pumped to Southern California.

Taking the first hit in the water crisis - farmers. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is reducing deliveries to agricultural users in the region by 30 percent in January because of the statewide water shortage. San Diego county growers rely on imported water to nourish a one-billion-dollar nursery industry. County Farm Bureau Executive Director Eric Larson.

Larson: If those cuts from the Delta or things like that become institutionalized or permanent, we're going to have some real serious issues for the farmers in San Diego County.

He says some farmers will likely reduce plantings while citrus and avocado growers would reduce production. Larson says fewer crops means fewer dollars in economic activity.

Just how much water we'll have next year also depends on Mother Nature this winter. Predictions of a lower than average Sierra snowpack and continued dry weather in Southern California make a wet winter crucial to water supplies. Maury Roos is a hydrologist with the State Department of Water Resources .

Roos: You know, if November and December are dry we've got a real handicap. Last year we had, of the five months, January and March were just about complete busts as far as precipitation goes.

He says the northern Sierra snowpack was measured at 40 percent of normal last April, the lowest since 1988.

If supply problems get worse, expect to see mandatory water restrictions in Southern California. Water rationing is already in effect in parts of Northern California. San Diego County Water Authority Board Chair Fern Steiner says the agency is ready if supplies are squeezed next year or in 2009.

Steiner: We do have in place a plan to do a cutback of water. The cutback would then go to the agencies, our agencies, and they would decide how to implement that cutback.

There haven’t been mandatory water restrictions in San Diego County since the last major drought that started in 1987. Steiner says if more of us conserve water it could offset cutbacks in Delta water supplies. Even if Mother Nature provides an average amount of rain and snow this winter, fixing the Delta and solving the state's long-term water supply problems will take years - even if the state legislature and governor can agree on a plan. 

Ed Joyce, KPBS News.

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