With a record-low snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, it’s clear that California must go on a strict water diet. On that, we agree with Gov. Jerry Brown, and we are grateful for his leadership on water issues as the state sinks deeper into a fourth consecutive dry year. We strongly support targeting ornamental landscape irrigation across the state as one of the most important ways to reduce water use.
The State Water Resources Control Board recently issued a draft regulatory framework to achieve the additional water savings ordered by the governor. It includes conservation targets of between 20 and 35 percent for local water agencies, such as the member agencies of the San Diego County Water Authority that serve virtually our entire metropolitan area.
The Water Authority champions water conservation – the region has already met the state’s 2009 mandate to reduce per capita water use 20 percent by 2020 – but we have deep concerns with the State Water Board’s approach. These concerns are shared by many business and agriculture leaders in our region because the state board’s first draft runs counter to California’s policy encouraging development of new water supplies, it would create serious economic fallout, and it doesn’t allow for the time necessary to make the least-damaging and most-effective cuts possible.
The most significant long-term problem created by the state’s proposed framework is that it discourages investment in local water supplies, which is contrary to state law and the governor’s California Water Action Plan. That plan encourages agencies to increase self-reliance, manage and prepare for dry periods and reduce dependence on the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta.
Following the 1987-92 drought, our region pursued a long-term strategy to enhance our water supply reliability by diversifying our water supplies at a cost that runs into the billions of dollars. The Water Authority and its partners pioneered a conservation-and-transfer agreement with the Imperial Valley for independent Colorado River supplies and launched construction of the Carlsbad Desalination Project, the largest seawater desalination project in the Western Hemisphere. The $1 billion Carlsbad project – funded entirely by local ratepayers – will produce up to 56,000 acre-feet of water annually starting this fall. Unfortunately, the region no longer would get credit for that investment against mandatory water-use reductions under the State Water Board’s April 7 proposal.
The region’s diversification strategy has received strong support from the public and the business community with the expectation that it would reduce impacts to customers during water shortages. State action to eliminate those benefits would hamper development of additional drought-proof supplies such as water recycling projects and potable reuse for years, if not decades. Instead, we recommend giving local agencies credit for developing drought-proof supplies as a way to meet the state’s demand-reduction targets.
The second major problem created by the State Water Board’s proposed regulations is that they would undermine businesses statewide, including our region’s $206 billion economy. Many businesses already have increased water-use efficiency in response to the drought of 2007-11 and the rising cost of water. Further cuts to these customers will significantly impact their ability to provide products and services, and may encourage them to leave the state, taking jobs with them. While the governor’s April 1 executive order focused on discretionary outdoor water use by businesses, the State Water Board’s initial framework targets all water use by commercial, industrial and institutional customers. We recommend targeting discretionary outdoor irrigation, not core business use of water.