Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Roundtable Talks Drought (In The Rain)

Roundtable: Talking Drought (In The Rain)
Roundtable Talks Drought (In The Rain)
The Drought HOST: Mark SauerGUESTS: Chris Jennewein, Times of San Diego Claire Trageser, KPBS News Tony Perry, LA Times

We are getting some rain today but California's drought still spells trouble for everyone. We are ripping out perfectly good laws and replacing them with native plants. Millions of trees are dying and all across the state. California's mega-drought -- this story starts now. Welcome to our special discussion of the California drought. I'm Mark Sauer and joining me at the roundtable today are Chris Jen one editor and publisher of the times San Tony Perry the Bureau chief for the Los Angeles times -- hello. And KPBS reporter Claire tragus her. Hello, Mark. Four years and with severe drought the governor and state and local leaders got serious. Brown ordered a 25% cutback be set of restrictions backed by the threat of bright find. Here's his announcement in April. We are in an historic drought and that demands unprecedented action. For that reason I'm issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reduction across our state. As Californians we have to pull together and save water in every way we can. This executive order which I signed to today covers a number of details effect that never seen one quite like it before. It's going to save water. Mandating a real reduction in a number of areas. It will affect golf courses, peoples lawns, universities, campuses, all sorts of institutions. I should note that the governor was standing in a field normally covered with snow this time of year. Chris, he got serious. He sounds urgent there -- what happened in the last few months? We haven't seen him. It's the accumulation of all the time. We are now four years into the record to drought and it's not getting any better. There was a hope for an increase in rain because of the minor El Niño in the Pacific that didn't happen. That didn't happen. I think that Governor. Brown is focusing on getting serious about the problem in California because it's not getting any easier. Okay, and the new mandatory restrictions -- how will the impact us? 25% across-the-board. It means that individual agencies will have to cut between 12%-36%. San Diego is the biggest -- only 16% because of conservation efforts in a been done. And we saw the first step yesterday in this when the water -- San Diego County water Authority order to require every agency to cut outside water used to today's a week. And you're going to have -- golf courses will cutback, cemeteries, college campuses. Medians. In basements. They will try to cut back the water use on all these places. Why not 25%? Is not 25% across-the-board because different agencies over the last number of years have had differing amounts of success with conservation. San Diego really is a star in this because I water use here is averaging 63 gallons per person which is considerably lower than the average across the state. So, we're only targeted with 16%. I think the impact in San Diego is will see our lawns get a little more Brown but it's not going to be a dramatic impact. All right. Some places you mentioned that the water use here -- palm springs and Rancho Santa Fe are multiples of that 63 gallons -- they will have to cut drastically because they haven't. Much higher cuts relatively but you have to remember that the averages are also based on how much land. Rancho Santa Fe scenario with sprawling households, farms, big lots. It's a much higher use over 300 gallons per person. They will have cutbacks they are but the bulk of the cutbacks really are going to be felt in a place like San Diego. Small amounts, but arch numbers of people. Any teeth behind this? Anything to back it up, Tony? That's what they are searching for. They are talking about fines and the water cops. I want to see how that works. It will mostly be voluntary. San Diego ends rally when they are asked to do something it doesn't seem onerous. We have yet to to see a heavy use of the fines. Various districts in Los Angeles for example have run around for a long time looking for water wasters and people taking -- thinking on their neighbors. Very few fines. You can't find your way into a large percentage cut. It is an untested territory. I thought it was interesting -- the water authority yesterday did say were cutting back to outside watering specular is two days per week. But they didn't say what days people have to do that. There's really no way to enforce that because unless you say I've numbers can water in a certain day if you see someone watering they could say oh, yes, this is my first time this week. There's no way to tell whether they are supposed to be watering or not. [indiscernible - multiple speakers] There was controversy over that. The city of San Diego felt there had to be specific days and I think you'll see specific dates set by the city of San Diego. The smaller authorities wanted the flexibility. They said the systems couldn't handle the same specific days. I think you'll soon see the days mentioned for San Diego. Claire's right -- San Diego has had specific days since November. By April they hadn't given anyone a fine although they us had mandatory restrictions in effect. There's a court case that appears to block the use of the normal way you restrict the usage of a product. Increased price. The court case out of San Juan Capistrano says you cannot judge people more that use above a certain level. That's usual way you just restrict how many people buy SUVs or Cadillacs. Make it expensive. Only a few people can afford it. That doesn't seem to be a way that we can get out of the water problem. We won't be able to have these tears -- tiers. The city of San Diego has to show that is related to the cost of delivery. Which it isn't. They will not make them pay through the hose. Let me ask you another thing -- the governor feels such urgency that he is wrecked resurrected the Delta tunnel project. Briefly tell us what is this. Why have we heard so much about it? It's a project that is several decades in the making. It would be in tunnels that stretch from just south of Sacramento to Tracy. The idea is to ensure that Southern California gets a greater supply of water and a certain supply of water from the Sacramento River. Right now the San Joaquin be is a series of small islands with canals. Right now we get water from there but it has to go by the island. It's a complicated process. The tunnels would take the water directly and ensure a more secure supply for Southern California. Of course, the many family farmers on the islands objected to that. A worry about saltwater from the be beginning to seep in. I think the project shows the desperation that California is facing. The northern Californians have changed their mind. This is the mother of all water disputes. North versus South. Every time they try and the northern folks raise up with the idea of Southern California guzzling more of their water. It gets a defeated. It was an old issue the first time Jerry was governor. It's back. He's trimming it down. We've got a bite on what he has to say about the naysayers -- let your what he says on this. -- Let's hear what he says on this. I asked my water man -- how many man hours and woman hours going to the Delta project? What did you tell me? 1 million. Into you put 1 million hours into it, shut out. [laughter] You don't know what you are talking about. Believe it or not he wasn't finished. Let's hear what else he had to say. He was fired up. The point is, we've got real issues. We have 38 million people. We've got it gross domestic product of 2.2 trillion. Per the seventh largest economic entity in the world. We have resources. We have problems. The problems are handled they get worse. They don't go away. And if I don't handle this Delta project this time I will have to come back and run for governor four years later like it did this time. The paradigm is still there -- in North California they are dead set against it. The Sacramento bee and the Chronicle in San Francisco will be dense to get it. Southern California will be makes. The environmentalists will say no, don't bring more water in encourages us to grow more. That's foolish. It will be a split vote down here. Unanimous in Northern California. That's what is blocked this project for decades. Of course the price tag -- $15 billion -- is also a drawback. We will bring it back to San Diego and the fight will continue, as you say. San Dieagans are struggling to use less water all the water authority says we are better off than in some areas. Claire, our people cutting back on the water use and how much? We touched on that earlier. Yes, over the past year they have but if you go back to to be 13 I think in the water thoroughly across the county water uses up 13%. The last few years were hot dry years and people are using more water than they did a couple of years ago. As we said there has not been a big push for the voluntary staff and some the essays here and there. Until lately not a big push. The irony of this -- this came from the meeting yesterday -- The meeting of the San Diego County water Authority -- the -- San Diego has done a lot to increase its supply. The combination of Carlsbad plant coming online, the deals with the farmers in in. Valley means that in this difficult year we will have 99% of what we need. We have to cut to 25% because of the state mandates. Where is the extra water going? Into the reservoir where it will be if we needed in the future dry years. San Diego is a prediction. I wanted to Tony and a few minutes on the Imperial Valley thing. This is a good spot to bring up -- we have a $3.5 billion waste water treatment project okayed from the city Council. That's over 20 years. What will it mean? A lot more potable water in recycling? That's an incredible project. It was really not been scientific American last year. San Diego was in the lead. The idea is to recycle the wastewater, not to send it to the ocean. Use it again. By 2013 we would be getting something like one third of our water from that. It will, for example, to 4 Carlsbad desalination plants. That is a high tech approach to the water crisis. Some people call it will it to tap. It's what happens on a broad scale with water. We drink water that's going down the toilet. It cycles through the atmosphere. Claire, a huge drain on water -- most homeowners have lawns and that figures into the ground. Talk about what having thousands of lawns -- you did a feature on this -- what does that mean in San Diego? The city had a rebate -- a rebate program in April. They said we are going to put a bunch more money into it. The money was gone within a week. Apparently people were waiting in the lobby of the public utilities department and applications in hand to the first day. They wanted to rather long? Yes, you get a dollar 50 per square foot to take out your lawn. People say it costs maybe a couple thousand dollars even if you are doing it yourself to go through and do with a redesign. So people really need that economic incentive to take out the lawn. I think we figured that they said 550,000 square said 550,000 ft.² of lawn will be taken out in this rebate -- if you calculate that, it's 33 Olympic swimming pools for the water per year. That's something, but none time. Indeed. There are 2 things -- looking at almonds -- someone said it's a gallon of water to grow one Allman. That's mind-boggling. Then, our lawns. The fact is, the lawns in this state are a small percentage of the use actor of our water. It's one that we can handle. Other things we can't handle. Not without litigation. So, when Jerry Brown says everybody's going to sacrifice, the answer is, well, no, they aren't. You've gone after the people that are easily gotten. Homeowners, suburbanites, people with lawns and toilets. You can go after them. People who use a lot more water -- the answer is, you can't cause of the loss. The city is pushing this -- everyone do your part. There's always a something that everyone can do where the director of public utilities says save the water while you wait for your shower to warm up and use it to make pasta. That's the level we are at. [laughter] Let me ask you on this score -- a lot of folks don't own it -- they read. You are a renter yourself. Tell me -- do you see the water bill? I have no idea. We do not pay our water bill. We have no idea how much water we use whatsoever. We also don't have a lawn so we can save water. Then, what to to do with the water -- make pasta, I guess. You want to see the payout. Yes. The numbers are misleading. To compare place with a lot of writers who have their apartments against a place that has an office vegetation. That is the folks in Rancho Santa Fe and Palm Springs. It's the problem of the rich people -- the people that created this problem. The answer is, no. The rich get richer and the rest of do not. Again, Jerry says were all in this together and the answer is no, we aren't. Some are, some aren't. One impact is that on businesses. We had [indiscernible] on the evening edition recently. Let's hear about that. If this is the new normal with the current level of restrictions we can whether it. To part in a pond. But if we start to see restrictions that go well beyond what the governor proposed this could be really challenging for how businesses are going to have to adapt to a much dryer Southern California. Claire, what are some things that the businesses might have to do? That's another area. I hear this every time I do a story on how the city wants people to cut back their water use. Able write to me and say what about the hotels? The gyms? Big businesses. What are they doing to cut back. One of the restrictions is that hotels have to offer not to launder your towels every time they clean your room. People can still do that. I don't know what level the hotels are doing to cut back. And tricking water in restaurants -- that's another drop in the bucket. Say a business uses more water than we would like -- other than fining them -- and that's legally questionable, what can you do? Can you turn off the water to a business? Blog. Whenever that has been tried with electricity because of failure to pay the bills tragedy occurs. Controversy occurs. I don't know does particularly in a suburban situation are you going to do this? Can you turn off the water to my neighbor because he's running it in the gutter? There may be some defiance on this if people get the idea that suburbanites are being asked to sacrifice and others are not. The last word -- There's a trade-off because businesses -- those are jobs. Agribusiness is our food supply. What the water authority say yesterday with the chairman said was this is an historic point in California. Ornamental lawns are the lowest priority. So, we may feel we are having to take it as suburban homeowners but in fact is probably more important to have food to eat and jobs. Absolutely. Water rights in California were contentious as far back as the late 1800s. Maybe they've always been contentious. It is a complicated issue fraught with peril. Tony, essentially it's whoever made the first historic claim is select to get restrict, am I right? In a large measure. In California developed water -- agriculture uses about 80%. It contributes 4% to be gross state product. Agriculture is not as big as it once was. We gotten a lot bigger. But again the right -- some agreements made with the federal government go back a century. More than a century when the idea was my goodness, are we going to have enough food to feed ourselves and there was a panic about that. Those that were willing to grow food got priority. Now we grow a lot of food and we export food from the Imperial Valley -- rice to Japan and pasta for Italy -- for their pasta. We are an exporter. Yet they say -- the Imperial Valley for example, the farmers have more water from the Colorado River than any other state. In fact several states combined. The have the water and they got it wrapped up with loss. -- Laws. In the lower San Joaquin, for example, a have the rights but they have a contract with the state and federal government and so when you go dry they do get cut and they are hurting. Now, north of Sacramento it's still pretty wet despite the scary pictures about Lake or a bill. -- Oro bill. -- We can go after Rancho Santa Fe or the suburbanites but it's the farmers -- Imperial Valley, Central Valley, Northern California -- They are the 800 pound gorilla. They are. Terry Brown is unwilling to go after them. It looked like he was going to go after our farmers in San Diego County but once they tweaked the numbers they will take maybe a 15% cut or be asked to as opposed to 35. So, farmers compared to some others are still doing really well. Let's talk about the deal with the Imperial Valley in the city -- what happens and 17? There are all sorts of off ramps. One is that if the ongoing problem of the salt in the see -- the Broadway stage -- always dying -- never dead. The biggest lake in the Western United States. California's original ecological disaster. It has no constituency. A lot of people care. Governor talks about 1 billion hours having to do with the San Joaquin Sacramento Delta -- not so salt and to see. After 2017 the agreement that was made between Imperial and San Diego -- part of it goes away. In terms of keeping water in the salt and sea. If water is no longer going there in a large amount to the see it shrinks. The dirty bottom with all these sticky salinity and all of that and -- it hits the air. It worsens the terrible asthma problems in those communities and it also drifts to the coast. So, we're all going to smell the Salton sea if something is not done. I asked the governor -- what about this? He said we will do with the later. He has not weighed in. He is still in the tunnel. It's billions more for that project, too. At one point the state had an idea -- let's do something -- they was dead on arrival. There is no money specifically in that water bond passed for the Salton sea. There's some money they can compete for but nothing close to what will have to happen and the Imperial Valley farmers are having sellers remorse and would like to cancel that deal. San Diego will soon get 20% of its water from the Imperial Valley and they don't want to cancel the deal nor do they want to solve the problem of the Salton sea. I want to swing back to agriculture in San Diego County -- we had Eric Larson telling evening edition last week how agriculture has been affected. Let's hear that. A lot of acreage has gone out of production due to the high price of water. Especially the tree fruit growers. The trees in the ground -- you have to keep it went. Prices have not risen commencement within the increase in the price of water. So we estimate about 10,000 acres of avocados are now idle. These are dead. Idle sounds soft. They have turned off the water on the trees and abandoned those gross. A lot more Colton culture? Competition is there to we've gotten avocados from places we never used to. Indeed Eric Larson of the Farm Bureau is correct. They suffered. The water deal still protect them into that a lot of the folks but not enough. Again, it's a $1 billion industry. One plus billion dollars give or take. It's surprising that we don't see it so much because it's cut flowers and avocados and citrus. Strawberries and flower fields of Carlsbad. It's not in downtown San Diego, for example, but it's out there. It doesn't contribute a lot in terms of employment. It just doesn't. It throws a lot of money into the economy and it has been hurt by the drought and shifting the market and the stance to be hurt more. In a short time left we want to shift gears and ask about desalination. -- Will we see a budget plans up and down the coast? Week ago the state water resource for order to streamline the regulars. The Carlsbad plant was bought by host keeper and other environmental groups. We think with the new regulations it might be easier to get a new one because there is one under consideration for Huntington Beach and a plant in Santa Barbara being brought back. This is a crazy -- Israel gets 40% of its water from desalinization. There's a lot of water in the Pacific Ocean. It will help California for decades to come. [indiscernible - multiple speakers] The Department of Defense -- how about a plant at Camp Clinton but we're still talking about decades. It's expensive water. The invite all medalists will fight -- there were lawsuits that had to be cleared away. They are waving the white flag. They still don't like desalinization and the growers don't like it. Any time you try one you can figure on litigation and political turmoil. Two seconds left -- we had a story in your paper -- 12 million trees hurting from the drought. One question for everybody -- we need to limit growth -- 38 million people -- too many? Not enough water? One of my colleagues campaigns that we need to tell the farmers what to grow. The slow growth people are out and they use water as an issue. The environmental quality act. I don't think that will occur. We can't stop growth. Most of the growth is coming from our kids growing up and having kids. We will have to stop it discussion. There will be more on this I'm sure. That right sub another week of the Roundtable. I would like to thank my guests -- times of San Diego -- Tony Perry of Los Angeles times and Claire from MyKPBS news. All of these stories are available on the website at -- per I'm Mark Sauer. Takes for joining us today on the Roundtable.

The dry state of California

Governor Jerry Brown is trying mightily to convey his own sense of urgency about the prolonged drought, as reservoirs, wells and entire towns dry up and jobs and revenue are lost.

The governor's April 1 executive order required for the first time in the state's history mandatory conservation for all residents. The State Water Resources Control Board on May 1 adopted emergency regulations mandating an immediate 25 percent reduction in potable water use statewide.

The new rules were adopted just after the release of water-use figures for March, which registered just a slight increase in water savings from the prior month.

The governor also revived the Delta Tunnel Project — although a scaled-back version — to keep large amounts of water flowing from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to needy Southern California. And he scrapped plans to spend $8 billion in federal and state funds to restore fish and wildlife habitat over the next 50 years.

Needless to say, there is intense opposition to these ideas.

San Diego tries to cope

San Diego County is trying to adapt to a hotter, drier reality. But it's not easy.

Folks in the city proper who want to replace their increasingly expensive, suddenly inappropriate green lawns are finding that the city's turf rebate program is tapped out for this fiscal year.

Temperatures in February were an average of 7 degrees higher than in 2013, causing more watering to keep those lawns lush. February saw an increase in water use of 13 percent, in spite of official pleas for voluntary cutbacks. April was a corker as well.

In addition, San Diego County forests, like woodlands all across the state, are nearly unrecognizable because of the millions of dead and dying trees. The lack of rain has rendered them unable to fight off infestations of beetles and other bugs.

Agriculture suffers

San Diego County farmers convinced the state's water regulators to ease off on new water restrictions for this area because of the water savings San Diegans have already managed.

Other farmers are not so fortunate. The State Water Resources Control Board said this week it expects to issue "curtailment orders" to the most senior water rights holders in the state. Water rights in California have been — to put it mildly — the subject of heated conflict for more than 100 years.

That won't stop anytime soon.