Why should Southern California care?
By Thomas S. Babcock | The Sacramento San Joaquin Delta covers nearly 738,000 acres and is the “hub” of the state’s water supply delivery system. Drinking and irrigation water flows from Northern California through this Delta system to points south through a series of islands and waterways that are fed primarily by the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. The Delta is the home of many fish and wildlife species including the Delta Smelt, Long Fin Smelt and salmon. Water flowing through the Delta serves fresh water needs for Northern California, Bay Area and Southern California communities as well as the San Joaquin valley where half the produce enjoyed by the nation is grown.
Communities in the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California are served by the State Water Project, through the California Aqueduct, built in the late 1960’s. The Central Valley Project, a federal water project, also supplies urban areas in the Bay Area and communities and farms in the San Joaquin Valley. Drinking and irrigation water flows currently through the Delta to both the state and federal water projects.
Southern California has contract rights for a little over 2 million acre feet of water annually from the State Water Project through the California Aqueduct. Over time, water operations, ecological and biological problems have threatened the reliability of water supplies from the Bay Delta. Southern California received less than half of what it had contracted for during the last five years and, unless water conditions change, we can expect a zero allocation this water year.
The proposed twin tunnel project has the sole purpose of increasing the reliability of water that Southern California receives from the Delta. In an average year, less than 4% of the water that flows from the Delta watershed is delivered to Southern California to support our $1 trillion economy.
It’s important to understand too that the Southern California region is making investments today to reduce reliance on imported water in the future. Southern California has long been a leader in water conservation, and plans to do much more. Some say we can replace imported supplies that we are relying upon today with more conservation or through ocean desalination. As a point of reference, however, to replace the amount of water we rely on today from Northern California in an average year could require nearly 72 desalination facilities and associated power plants every 4-8 miles along the coast from Los Angeles to San Diego — not a likely scenario.
Should the tunnel project moved forward to provide a more reliable water supply for this region, and construction is estimated to take ten years, the approximate cost to Southern California ratepayers would be an increase of $3 to $6 per month over a thirty year period — a sound investment to ensure water reliability for our Southern California citizens and generations in the future.
We are currently under a voluntary 20% water use restriction throughout Southern California. This will continue, and may become mandatory should the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which is currently 12% of normal, fail to materialize for the balance of the winter and spring. It is imperative that all water users grasp that this situation is critical and take all appropriate actions to ensure water availability to meet existing needs. ♦
Thom Babcock is Past Director to the Metropolitan Water District for the City of Fullerton.