Printed in the San Diego Union Tribune, October 9, 2013
By Mimi Walters & Lou Correa
In December 2012, the pumps that send water from Northern California to Southern California were throttled back yet again in order to protect the Delta Smelt and comply with the regulations in the Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, that month was also the only wet month that California has enjoyed over the last year. Indeed, the first half of 2013 reportedly has been the driest stretch in state history.
Due to regulatory restrictions, the allocation of water from the Delta to Southern California has been cut back significantly, with counties in Southern California only getting 35 percent of their allocations. For too long Southern California has been the victim of these “feast or famine” variations in the weather. Reservoirs fill up during wet years, and then they drain lower and lower during dry years as we hope and pray for a change in climate conditions. This is why Southern California needs new, 21st century water infrastructure that includes Delta conveyance and local waste water recycling and seawater desalination projects.
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) is critical to providing Southern California with a more consistent and reliable annual water flow. However, parties on all sides of the issue acknowledge that new local water resources must also be developed to complement the BDCP. Southern California has made investments in local water supply solutions, which include conservation, recycling, stormwater runoff capture and seawater desalination. Many of us remember the devastating drought that hit California from 1987 to 1992 and the impact that it had on residents and businesses throughout the state. Locally controlled water solutions are critical to the water supply reliability that we need to keep our economy strong and maintain our quality of life.
Any discussion of water supply must begin — but not end — with conservation. Southern Californians use less water per capita now than we did 20 years ago, and measurably less today on average than Northern Californians. More and more residents and businesses are using drought-tolerant “California friendly” plants and are capturing rainwater on their property to use for irrigation. We must continue to enhance our water conservation efforts throughout the region.
San Diego County Water Authority wisely worked with Poseidon Water in a public-private partnership to develop a seawater desalination facility in Carlsbad. This project will provide 50 million gallons of fresh drinking water per day and is an excellent example of how to use modern technology to develop locally controlled, drought-proof water supplies. Now, Orange County is poised to follow in San Diego’s footsteps and will build its own seawater desalination facility for our communities.
In November, the California Coastal Commission is scheduled to consider approval of the final permit needed to construct the large-scale desalination project in Huntington Beach. Like the Carlsbad facility, the proposed Huntington Beach project complies with Coastal Act requirements. The entire drought-stricken state will be closely watching the Coastal Commission’s proceedings to see if California is serious about its commitment to water supply reliability. Seawater desalination is not a silver bullet that will solve our water supply crisis on its own, but the technology is proven and state regulators have determined that plants can be built and operated in an environmentally responsible manner.
Meanwhile, Orange County has led the way on wastewater recycling, with the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) — the world’s largest water purification system for potable reuse. Operational since January 2008, GWRS has provided an additional 100 billion gallons of safe drinking water over the past five years. A phase-two expansion of GWRS is underway. Just as Orange County is following San Diego County’s lead on seawater desalination, San Diego County is looking to replicate Orange County’s success with recycled waste water.
Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy were devastating natural disasters and scientists predict that within the next 40 years there is a 60 percent chance of an earthquake that would devastate the Delta and the water supply for 26 million Californians. But an extended drought in California is a natural disaster in slow motion and is no less devastating. As state leaders we must put parochial interests aside and address our collective need for a holistic water supply reliability strategy now instead of waiting for the disaster that will inevitably come.
Walters (R, Laguna Hills) and Correa (D, Santa Ana) are state senators from Orange County.
“Desalination must be included in any discussion of future water sources for Orange County."