November 28, 2007

Water supply shrinks

Flow from Northern California being cut drastically

The California Aqueduct brings water to arid Southern California from the Sacramento River Delta.
Copyright © Mark Hanauer

Shawbong Fok, Staff Writer
San Bernardino County Sun

The Inland Empire's water supplies from Northern California next year are going to be cut in half thanks to a drought as well as an endangered fish swimming in a delta near Sacramento that needs the water.

In the face of less water flowing locally, landscapers, golf courses and even citrus growers might get socked with higher water bills.

"We might hand water (with a hose) the dry spots," said Bill Henning, superintendent of Shandin Hills Golf Club in San Bernardino.

The water cuts are the result of some of the driest weather in years.

The Inland Empire's apportionment of water next year has been cut because of the drought hitting the state, according to the State Water Contractors, a nonprofit of 27 public agencies that buys water under contract from the California State Water Project.

San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, which serves about 600,000 residents in an area from Fontana to Yucaipa, is part of this water group.

In 2008, the water district is expected to get 58 percent less water than this year from the state, said Randy Van Gelder, water district general manager.

"I don't know if there'll be a raise in rates," said Joe Zoba, Yucaipa Valley Water District general manager. "Just because there's a shortage of water from the state doesn't mean there'll be an increase in water rates."

The California State Water Project includes reservoirs, lakes, storage tanks, canals, tunnels, pipelines and pumping and power plants that move and store water in the state.

Collectively, the State Water Contractors deliver water to more than 25 million residents in the state and to more than 750,000 acres of agricultural land.

The water delivery cuts, which are among the largest since 2003 in the Inland Empire, are attributed to a legal ruling that is trying to protect an endangered fish, called the smelt.

That fish needs the water in the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta where it lives. The delta is located at the western edge of the Central Valley by the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.

On Aug. 31, U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger limited how much water could be delivered from the delta between December and June.

The State Water Contractors on Monday announced water cuts that will permit the statewide consortium to purchase only 25 percent of the requested water.

This will supply only about half of what's needed for the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, officials said.

"We'll have to secure more water from Northern California," Van Gelder said.

Sixty percent to 70 percent of water from the State Water Contractors is used for landscapes, both commercial and residential.

The result of these cuts will be conservation measures, including everything from the showcasing of low water-retention plants and irrigation techniques to tests in San Bernardino parks on remote-controlled sprinklers that conserve water.

This isn't the first time a water shortage has hit Californians. Drought conditions in the early 1990s pushed water agencies to adopt conservation techniques.

"Conservation is a means to adapt to water changes," said Linda Fernandez, an environmental scientist at UC Riverside.

The Inland Empire is one of the nation's fastest-growing areas, resulting in more water needs than ever.

Already, San Bernardino County has some 2 million residents, hundreds of thousands of more people than a decade ago.

Not all water agencies in California will implement the same water-saving techniques.

"Each agency will respond differently depending on local conditions," said Bob Muir, spokesman for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves western San Bernardino Valley residents, as well as metropolitan Los Angeles and San Diego.