October 2, 2007

State officials address mounting water ‘crisis’

Victorville Daily Press

James Quigg / Staff Photographer
Water flows through the California Aqueduct Tuesday. Several state officials are predicting a water crisis in California's future.

The Victor Valley’s future water supply is in danger — facing an onslaught by drought, global warming, aging infrastructure and a requirement to preserve a little fish called the Delta smelt.

The crisis has not yet percolated to the Victor Valley, but it puts at risk the water supply coming over the California Aqueduct. That water is a key component of the Mojave Water Agency’s plan to recharge the region.

“I’m extremely concerned ... about what could very quickly become a real crisis for this state,” said state Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, who has proposed a $9 billion plan to address the weaknesses in the system.

Cogdill was speaking at a news conference broadcast by telephone. He was joined by Lester Snow, director of the Department of Water Resources.

Last year, snowpack was at its lowest level since 1988, Snow said. Because of the drought, levels in state reservoirs are down 40 percent from last year, he added.

“We combine that with the vagaries of climate change ... and know that the forecast is pretty clear, that our droughts are going to be much worse in the future,” Snow said, referring to the wide swings in future weather that global warming presents. “This could be the second year of a 10-year drought, or the highest flood flows we’ve seen in the state.”

On top of that, in August a federal judge imposed limits on water flow from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to protect the endangered Delta smelt, whose habitat lies in the area of the Delta’s massive pumps. The same judge, Fresno-based Oliver Wanger, is scheduled to hear a companion case today aimed at protecting salmon.

Locally, the Mojave Water Agency has stored Aqueduct water underground since 1991, for a total of 114,205 acre feet. An acre foot is said to supply a family of four for one year.

The amount of water pumped in the entire region was unavailable, but for perspective, the former Victor Valley Water District, now the Victorville Water District, pumped about 22,000 acre feet in 2005.

For two years, the MWA has been heralding its plan to recharge the Victor Valley’s sub-basin through its Regional Recharge and Recovery program — using Aqueduct water.

While the MWA is allotted 75,800 acre feet per year, it remains to be seen whether the state will be able to provide its court-mandated annual allotment.

Michael Stevens, spokesman for the MWA, said he could not comment on the future of the agency’s water entitlement. But he did acknowledge that the situation is a crisis.

“It could have a huge impact if these issues are not addressed,” he said, referring to drought and Delta problems. “We should not be in a panic, but don’t become complacent. Because the state is in a crisis, it could impact our situation if things continue the way they are.”

Snow and Cogdill encouraged the state’s investment in “regional self-sufficiency,” which involves local agencies pursuing ways to avert a crisis themselves.

Such measures include surface water storage, desalinization, conservation and reclaimed water.

“But these measures by themselves can’t solve our problem,” Cogdill said.

“We won’t be able to rely on the Sierra any longer, it appears,” he added. “We think it’s crucial that we move forward (on the bond proposal).”

In the meantime, officials from the retail districts to the state water agencies are pushing conservation above all.

For more information on the state’s water crisis, go to www.calwatercrisis.org