Beware – A Water Supply Disaster

Billie Greer
President, Southern California Leadership Council

“It was like when you make a move in chess and just as you take your finger off the piece, you see the mistake you’ve made, and there’s this panic because you don’t know yet the scale of disaster you’ve left yourself open to.”Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

Even the most skilled of chess players make mistakes. The disaster? A lost game.  But when it comes to ensuring that our families, businesses and farms have a reliable, safe supply of water, mistakes generate huge consequences. A new study released yesterday by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation reveals the scale of disaster that the Los Angeles area could experience were the California Aqueduct to be shutdown in the aftermath of an earthquake or man-made incident.  The mistake would be to ignore these findings and hope for the best.

Conducted by a team of USC economists, including one of the nation’s leading experts on terrorism and other disasters,  the study indicates that up to 550,000 jobs and nearly $56 billion in GDP could be lost in Los Angeles County during a one year shutdown of the aqueduct should a disaster occur during a drought year. With a two year shutdown during a normal rainfall year, the job loss approaches 740,000 and a $75 billion loss in GDP.

This study looks at the impacts of such a disaster on Los Angeles County. On top of what could happen in Los Angeles, consider the impacts on the Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley and the entire Southern California region should an earthquake or other disaster cut off the supply of water from the Delta.  The results would be catastrophic.

This is a wake-up call of the first order.  And, there are multiple responses that can be made, including facilitating important water infrastructure projects, shoring up levees, continuing to develop local water supplies and storage, restoration of the Delta and preparing for the big one, to name a few.

Many of our political leaders on all levels of government recognize the challenge to our water supply.   This study provides a sense of urgency that cannot be overstated. It’s time to get into high gear. To do less will throttle our economy and put Californians in harm’s way.

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