California Water Agencies Face Major Water Supply Cuts in 2013

Charles WIlson
Chairman, Southern California Water Committee

The California Department of Water Resources announced staggering figures on Tuesday that should serve as a wake-up and call to all Californians.

Water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta (Delta) have been severely limited as pumping operations have been restricted in order to protect Delta smelt, a threatened fish species found only in the Delta. Between November 1, 2012 and January 31, 2013, deliveries to California public water agencies have been curtailed by 700,000 acre-feet. That’s enough water to supply four million people for one year. To put that in perspective, that amount is enough to supply the city of Los Angeles for one year – the entire city.

We know that implementing a long-term fix for the Delta is important but the announcement made it crystal clear that a fundamental overhaul of the state’s water delivery system is needed or else we will face an endless cycle of yearly announcements about water cutbacks and a continued decline in fish species.

The Southern California Water Committee selected the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) as a top policy priority for 2013. Our members and supporters, which include business leaders, agricultural interests, city and county elected officials, labor unions, water agencies and many other regional stakeholders, realize these impacts are unsustainable. The BDCP is designed to improve water supply reliability and restore the Delta ecosystem – two important goals that are unfortunately in conflict now with our existing infrastructure and regulations. A comprehensive fix is needed.

As evidence of the true impact of a comprehensive fix, state officials said on Tuesday that if a properly-sized tunnel facility, with intakes located in the northern Delta, was in operation this winter, we could have avoided the water losses. The water could have been safely diverted in a manner that avoided the fishery conflicts. This is an investment that will pay for itself year in and year out.

We are ready to work arm in arm with the Obama and Brown administrations in moving this important project forward.  It is important for all Californians to get briefed and actively involved because some important milestones are approaching in the coming months. The federal and state agencies will soon be releasing the finalized Bay Delta Conservation Plan and its environmental review documents – it’s been six years in the making.

Regional and statewide leaders need to weigh in strongly to promote a thoughtful dialogue, ensure a careful review of the science, alternatives and costs, and ultimately adopt and put forward a balanced approach. But if history tells us anything, we know that all interests – whether located in Northern, Central or Southern California – will need to raise their voices and lean forward.

What does that mean? It means promoting BDCP within your organization, distributing supportive press releases, publishing informational newsletters, penning letters of support, lobbying your elected officials, and much more.

The Southern California Water Committee launched the state’s only dedicated public education and outreach program to support BDCP last year – entitled “Delta Disrupted“. Check out the information and tool kit materials on our website.

The cycle of conflict needs to stop in 2013. 700,000 acre-feet is an astonishing amount of water to lose and could increase this year and the losses could continue into next year too. Let’s work together to push BDCP across the finish line this year.

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