Nearly 20% of California's water agencies could face shortages if drought persists, state report says

Nearly 20% of California’s water agencies could face shortages if drought persists, state report says

Most urban water agencies in California think they have enough supply to get through another seven months of drought, but nearly 20% — including many in Southern California — say they could face significant shortages, according to a new state report.

The California Department of Water Resources’ first annual water supply and demand assessment surveyed the state’s urban water agencies to see how they are managing limited supplies through conservation efforts and a better drought planning. The report, which includes annual data through July 1, focuses on water agencies that serve at least 3,000 connections, which represents around 90% of the population.

Of 414 reporting agencies, 82% said they expected no shortages as long as current conservation efforts continue, including voluntary water use reductions and local Level 2 water scarcity measures. Officials said the findings underscore that, in many cases, water-saving efforts are making a difference.

“It’s a very important thing to get across – that early drought planning and conservation works,” DWR Deputy Assistant Director of Communications Ryan Endean told reporters this week.

But the report also shows that many providers may soon face challenges.

Seventy-three agencies, or about 18% of respondents, identified a potential shortage that they believe could be addressed with additional conservation measures, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District.

Three other agencies — the City of Menlo Park, the District of Ventura County Waterworks Moorpark and the District of Ventura County Waterworks Simi Valley — have predicted shortages that may not be solved by additional measures alone.

“Look at how many agencies are predicting shortages — significant shortages — next year,” said Dan Drugan, spokesman for Ventura County supplier Calleguas Municipal Water District, which reported a potential shortage of about 40%.

Drugan noted that the region receives limited federal supplies from the Colorado River and has been heavily impacted by reduced state allocations this year. He said the agency plans to address potential shortages with aggressive actions among its retailers, including moving to a Level 4 response as early as December and possibly implementing a full outdoor watering ban next year.

The nearby Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, which serves Calabasas, Hidden Hills and surrounding areas, predicts a 63% shortage, according to the report. Agency spokesman Mike McNutt said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if that number had gotten worse in recent months.

“We haven’t improved our water situation,” McNutt said. “It’s not for lack of trying, but we didn’t get any extra supplies and…there was no rush that helped us.”

Las Virgenes is looking to buy more supplies from other agencies, he said, and is also considering a total ban on outdoor watering and a Level 4 response.

Other agencies fare slightly better. In Los Angeles, the DWP reported a potential 30% shortage, but the city’s vigorous response to outdoor watering limits and other drought rules has kept water demand on target, according to the manager. water resources policy, Terrence McCarthy. The agency instituted a Level 3 response on June 1 and reported record low usage over the summer, so McCarthy did not schedule additional conservation restrictions based on current conditions.

“If we continue like this, we will be able to meet the demands with the available supplies we have,” he said. However, he noted that “everyone can guess” what the forecast calls for the development of snow, rain and water supply during the winter.

“We definitely need to keep our foot on the pedal, not just because we could face another dry winter, but also because it’s about making conservation a way of life,” McCarthy said.

The DWP, along with Calleguas, Las Virgenes and about two dozen other agencies, buy water from the region’s massive wholesaler, Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District, which itself has reported a potential shortage of 43 %. MWD officials could not immediately say whether that number had improved in recent months, but noted that its emergency conservation order – which includes outdoor watering restrictions for about 6 million Southern Californians dependent on state supplies — likely won’t be lifted until California sees significant rainfall. and the state increases grants.

MWD spokeswoman Rebecca Kimitch added that deteriorating conditions on the Colorado River mean the rest of Southern California could also see calls for increased conservation in the coming months.

“Given the deteriorating conditions on the river, Metropolitan does not anticipate having a full Colorado River Aqueduct in 2023 or beyond,” Kimitch said. “So our entire service area must take action to protect our limited Colorado River supplies. The initial call for conservation will likely be voluntary, but if the water supply outlook does not improve, Metropolitan may implement a water supply allocation plan for its entire service area. , requiring mandatory conservation throughout the region.

Notably, the majority of agencies that have reported potential shortages are in two of the most populated water regions in the state, the San Francisco Bay Area and the South Coast region, which includes Los Angeles, County of Orange and San Diego, according to the report.

However, the focus on water providers with at least 3,000 connections meant that many small, often rural communities were not included – many of which rely heavily on groundwater and are among the hardest hit by Drought. Nearly 1,400 dry wells have been reported in the state this year.

State officials said they continue to work with small providers through direct assistance grants and technical support programs, including millions of dollars in funding from DWR’s Small Community Drought Relief program. . Such funding often goes towards immediate and temporary measures such as hauled water, temporary water reservoirs, bottled water and emergency interconnections between communities, according to Steve Doe, the program manager.

Small water providers will have to meet new drought planning requirements under Senate Bill 552, passed in September 2021, which aims to help these areas better prepare for water-scarce conditions, officials said. officials said.

Despite these steps in the right direction, the report points out that nearly one-fifth of state agencies could face shortages if drought conditions persist. Forecasts already point to another dry winter and a potential fourth year of drought.

Peter Gleick, co-founder and president emeritus of the Pacific Institute, said the report’s findings are highly dependent on whether that prediction comes true.

“They’re making assumptions about how much water they’ll get on top of the water any agency could have in stock, so things could be worse than just 20% saying they need to do more and three of them saying, “We’re really in trouble,” he said. “But it depends on the severity of the drought.”

And while the report focuses primarily on urban residents, Gleick noted that agricultural water users, who receive allocations separately, also face uncertainty over next year’s supply. A recent state report showed that California’s irrigated farmland has shrunk nearly 10% by 2022.

The latest findings “underscore both that water efficiency and conservation have already played a critical role in helping water agencies cope with the current drought, but also that increased conservation efforts will be needed for 20% of urban water agencies if the current drought continues”. Gleick said. He added that Pacific Institute research has shown that further improvements in water use efficiency are possible for every urban water agency.

The message, he said, is that “conservation really got us through the drought until today and it’s too early to stop conserving”.

The 2022 report marks the first of what will each year become an annual assessment, state officials said. Urban water agencies are also required to update their water shortage contingency plans every five years.

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