Monday, June 1, 2009

Summer is Here and the Water is Gone.

If you thought the gas crisis of Summer 2008 was painful, wait until you feel the impact of the water crisis of Summer 2009.

Although the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) has been warning its water agency members for 18 months that curtailments are coming, the public will now feel the first impact as the City of Los Angeles begins today enforcing its new water conservation rules, coupled with a 15% rate increase.

This water shortage is due to a number of factors coming together, creating the 'perfect drought:' cutbacks in water supply from the Colorado River, low reservoir water storage, below normal rainfall/snowpack for the past three years, and reduced water flow from the Bay-Delta due to a court order protecting the Delta smelt.

But this water train wreck has been brewing ever since the Peripheral Canal, designed to be the second phase of the State Water Project, was disapproved by voters in 1982. We continue to rely on water supplies that were negotiated in the Colorado Compact in the 1920s based upon faulty hydrologic supply information and were designed to support a California population that peaked in 1990 (the State Water Project).

Last Friday, I attended a business community meeting where Pasadena Water & Power executives outlined in an intelligent, detailed manner how the current water crisis occurred and what the impact will be upon Pasadena Chamber of Commerce members and business district property/business owners.

Needless to say, this business community, a major tax base economic engine for the City of Pasadena, was not happy to hear of an average 10% rate increase on July 1st of this year and another average 8.7% increase on July 1, 2010.

Note the 'average' word, because to hear some businesses tell it, they will be hit with anywhere from a 60% to 75% rate increase, at a time when retail is dying and many businesses are struggling for survival in a City that already has a high permit fee and business tax structure.

In my opinion, most water agencies throughout Southern California have not done a good job in communicating this dire water shortage situation because they've tried to soft-pedal it to their customers. Even Pasadena admitted that there was only a 3% decrease in water usage this past year (with a target of 10%), despite an expensive 'humorous' water waster media campaign and various water conservation outreach meetings. Sadly, Californians have had cheap, plentiful water for so long, they have no idea that living in a Mediterranean climate means a semi-arid landscape.

Beginning today in LA and July 1st elsewhere, residential and business water users will be shocked into a new reality: much higher water bills and heavy penalties for water waste.

If there is a blessing here, it is that our current economic recession and restructuring means that we will all be forced to re-evaluate our water usage, since we no longer live in the good old days where we could just throw more money at the problem. Moreover, with MWD's 10% curtailment already in place, there is still the possibility by late this year that actual water rationing may take place, if water usage does not drop.

Hopefully, people will begin to make the connection between urban river restoration, whose stream beds hold stormwater run-off and allow groundwater percolation, and local water supply, our best hope for water security and sustainability.

To paraphrase the Founding Fathers' motto: Adapt or Face Very Unhappy Consequences.

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