The future is looking rather dry for California.
The state’s Department of Water Resources announced last week that it was expecting 2009 to be an exceptionally dry year. DWR officials told customers that under current conditions, they would only be able to meet 15 percent of water needs.
This will most likely mean heavy conservation and education efforts, said DWR spokesperson Ted Thomas.
The announcement was part of an estimate that is made every year in December, but officials said they were making it public earlier this year so local water agencies can prepare for less water than usual. Depending on weather conditions over the next few months, the estimate could be revised, but things aren’t looking good now, Thomas said.
“If things don’t get wetter, we’re going to have some very serious water problems,” he said. “We’re barely into the rain and snow season, so hopefully this estimate will increase.“
State water officials are crossing their fingers for more rain and a good snowpack, which will influence the amount of water that can be delivered next year.
The state water project delivers water to 29 public agencies around the state, including industry, farms and cities, Thomas said. This affects the drinking water supply of more than 25 million people in California and more than 750,000 acres of irrigated farmland.
The water issues this year are part of a broader challenge state leaders are facing with regard to what to do about the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which is major source of water for the state.
“The uncertainty of precipitation patterns due to global warming and deteriorating conditions in the Delta, California’s main water hub, demand immediate action to enhance our ecosystem and keep our economy productive in the 21st century,” said DWR director Lester Snow in the press release.
“This further dramatizes the urgent need for additional investments in water storage and conveyance infrastructure to assure an adequate and reliable water supply,” he said.
One major dilemma is what to do to about the delta, which is a critical part of California’s water infrastructure, as UC Davis Professor Jeffrey Mount explained in a talk Wednesday night on campus.
Mount, the director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, outlined the long-term need to develop a plan for the future of the delta, a fragile system of levees and islands that is threatened by the impacts of climate change.
“The odds of this system falling apart during my son’s lifetime … is roughly two out three,” Mount said.
Because many of the levees in the Central Valley were built by farmers decades ago, they are at a high risk of failing, he said.
Without a reliable system of levees, it will be harder for the delta to meet the needs of the water customers it serves throughout the state.
The possibility of the water estimate for next year could change. The lowest estimate ever – 10 percent of need in 1993 – was upgraded to 100 percent during the water year as conditions developed, according to the press release.
JEREMY OGUL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.