Tuesday, November 6, 2007

California water shortage warnings

It's not just Marin, with its plans to start desalinating Bay water, or just southern California with its record dry spell, but it's the rest of the Sierra snowpack-dependent portion of the state that's facing possible rationing. So say the water authorities in this SF Chronicle piece. La Nina is back and it's being blamed for the prolonged drought in the American Southeast already.

California needs an especially wet winter if it is to fill its reservoirs and abide by court-ordered restrictions to reduce pumping by up to a third from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, said John Leahigh, a top administrator with the State Water Project.

That is particularly true in the Sierra Nevada, which stores much of the state's water supply in its winter snowpack. But so far, there is no indication of wintertime salvation.

Government experts predict much of the country will have a warmer and drier winter than normal because of moderate La Nina conditions, in which air cools over the Pacific and the jet stream gets pushed farther north.

But it's already been drier than normal, and unless we get way above normal rain and snow this winter, we'll already be starting with a deficit come next year's dry season. The environmental protection of the Delta Smelt has also prompted a court order to pump less water out of the Sacramento river that would normally go to agriculture and domestic users.

The amount of rain and snowfall California received during the 2007 water year — measured between September 2006 and Oct. 1 of this year — was the lowest since 1988. Southern California is experiencing a record dry spell, leading officials in Los Angeles to warn about mandatory rationing for the first time since 1991.

The dry conditions have left state and federal reservoirs below normal levels. Additionally, state water managers over the summer had to draw down reservoirs to make up for the court decision that halted pumping from the delta for several weeks.

Adaptation would entail learning to use less water in all applications at home, for business and for recreation. But some lawmakers don't seem to want their constituents to have to change habits, and are now writing legislation that would allow - and fund - localities to build their own dams.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called a special legislative session to address the state's water supply, although those efforts have stalled over a disagreement about building dams. He has proposed a $10.3 billion bond to add reservoirs and underground storage, increase water recycling and promote conservation programs.

Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, has floated a $6.8 billion bond that would allow communities to compete for state grants to build their own dams, improve water efficiency, recycle water and store more water underground.

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