By Doug Curlee | Editor at Large
Water resource experts at the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) cringe every time they hear someone speculate that the drought is over just because we’ve had a couple of decent rainstorms, although more are on the way at this writing.
“We need several more good storms here, and all over California, before we can even begin to think about an end to the drought” said Alexa Schnell, water resources specialist at the SDCWA. “Some of our local reservoirs are in good shape as far as capacity is concerned, but our water supply depends a lot on what happens in northern California, and especially in the high Sierra snowpack.”
As it has since the construction of the state water project back in the 1950s, Southern California’s water supply is heavily dependent on water coming to us from the north, through the Sacrament-San Joaquin Delta and down the canal system. Much of that water must come from the snows. The very poor snowpack over the past three years is the major reason the state is in a drought condition.
“We need rains and snows to be, at the least, 150 percent of normal this season to be able to say we’re out of the drought. Right now, there is no way to know whether that’s going to happen or not.” said Schnell.
A look at our local reservoirs shows what a confusing picture our current situation is.
Reservoirs large and small vary widely, and wildly, in their percentage of water actually stored.
At the high end, the newly raised San Vicente Dam near Lakeside, our second largest reservoir, is at 93.1 percent of its capacity of 89,312 acre-feet of water.
(An acre-foot is roughly 326,000 gallons, enough to serve two families of four for a year.)
At the low end, Lake Morena can hold 50, 674 acre feet, but it’s at 3.1 percent of capacity — in other words, almost dry.
All the other reservoirs fall somewhere between those two, although El Capitan — which depends strictly on runoff, with no way to receive water from a pipeline like other reservoirs — is at only 28.7 percent of its capacity of 112,807 acre-feet.
It sounds as though there’s a lot of water out there, but there isn’t.
If you really want to see water authority people turn pale and shaky, suggest out loud that there’s no need for continued mandatory conservation measures currently in effect over the county.
They simply don’t know what the future will bring. If more storms are in our future, so much the better. We have the reservoir capacity to handle it.
Two possible problems ahead
A significant part of our future water supply is coming from Imperial County, where the water authority has a deal with the Imperial Irrigation District to receive more than 200,000 acre-feet of water per year from Imperial in exchange for our fixing and lining their canals to stop the loss of water there.
That deal may be in some jeopardy, because Imperial is demanding the state of California do what it apparently agreed to do years ago and hasn’t done — clean up the dangerous, polluted mess that is the Salton Sea.
If the state won’t act, then Imperial may want to take the water that would have come to San Diego and use it instead to attack the environmental disaster the Salton Sea is becoming. More than one court fight may be looming there.
The other potential problem is what we’ve been talking about.
What if the storms stop? What if there is no El Nino, the weather phenomenon everyone has been counting on and praying for?
If that happens, and it very well might, we will be worse off than we are now. We would have to depend on Colorado River water, which might be in short supply, and on the Carlsbad Desalination plant when it comes on line at the end of 2015.
Conservation will then become not just voluntary. It’ll be rigidly enforced.
No one wants to see that.
—Contact Doug Curlee at firstname.lastname@example.org.