Water Fast Becoming Scarce Way Out West

A drought in the Southeastern U.S. has politicians seeking solutions with recycling and mandatory conservation measures

As drought moderated a bit in portions of the southeastern U.S. this spring, it intensified in the West. By early June, all of California and Nevada were experiencing abnormally dry weather with substantial areas suffering moderate to severe drought.Those conditions, along with other complications, prompted California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to proclaim an official statewide drought, as he revealed that spring 2008 was the driest on record for northern California. That area supplies much of the water for the rest of the state.In addition, the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, revealed that he would pursue an aggressive conservation plan that includes recycling wastewater.

 We must recognize the severity of the crisis we face," said Schwarzenegger, even though the state meteorologist said the state was not in drought just a month before.But that was before unusual weather patterns, possibly related to climate change, wreaked havoc with the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. While it was at 97 percent of normal in March, it was at just 67 percent of normal by May.Warmer-than-normal weather conditions melted the snow too quickly, so experts now say much of it was lost to evaporation."The snowpack has been disappearing, and it has not manifested itself as runoff [into reservoirs]," said Lester Snow, director of the California Department of Water Resources.Now factor in that the Colorado River, a critical water source, has received average runoff just once since 1999. In four of the last eight years, in fact, it received little more than half of its average, and 2002 was its driest year in a century. Its long-term dependability is now questionable.The state also lost a substantial amount of water because of a federal judge's decision last summer. He ruled that more water must be retained in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to protect the endangered smelt.Thus, Schwarzenegger was prompted to act, a move that surprised some. "California has no official guidelines for what constitutes a statewide drought, and the governor's proclamation this early in a dry spell is unusual. The state is in its second dry year," reported the Los Angeles Times.Mostly the governor's announcement served to prod state legislators to act and to put the state's citizens on notice that rationing could be coming if circumstances do not improve. Residential customers are not likely to face severe rationing this year, according to the newspaper report. Farmers are likely to be the hardest hit, however. In the San Joaquin Valley, shortages could force some to abandon their tomato crops."Our drought is an urgent reminder of the immediate need to upgrade California's water infrastructure," Schwarzenegger said. "I hope the legislators get the point. Let's fix all of these things that need to be fixed rather than waiting and waiting and waiting."He pointed out that in 2006 the state had so much precipitation that "raging storm water drained off into the ocean without us catching it" as existing reservoirs couldn't contain it all. "Today, those same reservoirs are 40 percent below capacity. It is absolutely insane."
In Los Angeles, meanwhile, Mayor Villaraigosa is pushing a $2 billion conservation and recycling effort that will include, among other things, financial incentives, building code changes, and restrictions on watering lawns and washing cars. Additionally, the mayor intends to capture and store rainfall and clean up a contaminated water supply beneath the San Fernando Valley.He also wants to use treated wastewater to recharge underground drinking supplies, a strategy that has been ridiculed — and rejected — in the past. "This is a new day," he said. "We have new technology. We're going to reach out very aggressively to the public and engage them with the facts."One of those facts is that the freshwater supply is finite, no matter where one lives."There is no new water on this planet," said Millie Hamilton of the Encino Water Reclamation Plant."We are drinking the same water the dinosaurs drank. All our water has been and is being recycled.













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