Federal judge orders massive cut in water supply deliveries from the Bay Delta

Short Title
Federal judge orders massive cut in water supply deliveries from the Bay Delta
California faces unprecedented water crisis as early as 2008
August 31, 2007

Today in Fresno, U. S. District Court Judge Oliver W. Wanger announced a series of severe restrictions on the operations of the massive pumps that supply water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to 25 million Californians (about two-thirds of all Californians), including 3 million residents of San Diego County, to protect threatened fish in the Bay-Delta.

Water officials are studying Wanger’s complex decision to determine the potential impacts to water supplies in 2008; those cutbacks will be the largest curtailments ever ordered. Wanger said he intends to begin imposition of the pumping restrictions on Dec. 25, 2007. The cutbacks are expected to last a year or more.

For San Diego County, supplies from the Bay-Delta in recent years have provided more than one-third of all water used in the county. A significant reduction in supplies from the State Water Project could have serious impacts in San Diego County.


“We are clearly facing a serious water crisis throughout California,” said Fern Steiner, chair of the San Diego County Water Authority’s board of directors. “The water supply impacts of this court decision to San Diego County will be significant, and supply shortages and mandatory water use restrictions are a very real possibility. This decision comes on the heels of the historic dry conditions we are experiencing throughout California, which are already impacting water supplies.”

The Water Authority purchases its Bay-Delta water supplies from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), which stands to lose a significant portion of its supplies from Northern California next year and possibly longer as a result of the ruling. Officials from MWD are weighing the potential impact of the court action on its projected water supplies for 2008. MWD could impose mandatory water supply reductions in deliveries to its member agencies, including the San Diego County Water Authority. MWD has already advised agricultural customers who buy water at a discount through an MWD program to expect a 30 percent cut in those supplies beginning January 1, 2008. The final impact of the court action will not be known until the end of the upcoming 2007-2008 winter season, which will determine how much Sierra snow pack – and water supply – may be available next year, and how much of that supply will be curtailed because of the pumping restrictions.

Wanger’s ruling came in a lawsuit the Natural Resources Defense Council brought against the Department of Interior challenging operations of the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project in the Bay-Delta. These projects rely on pumps and aqueducts to move water from the San Francisco Bay-Delta region to central and Southern California. Wanger ruled that pumping operations must be reduced in an effort to protect Delta smelt, a threatened fish species. In an earlier decision, Wanger ruled that the federal government’s “biological opinion” that guided water operations in the Bay-Delta did not adequately protect fish species, particularly the Delta smelt. The Delta smelt is a 1-inch-long fish considered an indicator of the Bay-Delta’s ecological health. Today’s ruling sets interim operating rules until a new biological opinion is approved.

“This ruling underscores in dramatic fashion the fact that the Bay-Delta as an ecosystem and a system for delivering water supplies is broken and needs to be fixed,” Steiner said. “Everyone needs to recognize the urgent need to complete the work necessary to fix the Bay-Delta and restore the water supplies that allow Californians to live and work here and form the basis of our state’s economy.”

The Water Authority is working with MWD on its review of available water management options to help address potential supply shortfalls in 2008. In response to the drought from 1987 to 1992 and its impact of the personal lives of every Californian and the business community, the Water Authority and MWD invested in diversifying their water portfolios. The Water Authority has invested in maximizing storage, local supply development, the Coachella and All-American canal lining projects, the water transfer from Imperial Irrigation District, conservation, and recycling. This year the water transfer and the canal linings will provide 71,500 acre-feet of reliable water. By 2011, the water transfer and canal lining projects will provide nearly 158,000 acre-feet of water. By 2021, they will provide 277,700 acre-feet annually.

The City of Carlsbad, a Water Authority member agency, is working on a seawater desalination plant, which the Water Authority is supporting. The Water Authority is also exploring other potential options for a seawater desalination plant in the county. The Water Authority is projecting that as a result of investments by its member agencies, groundwater production will triple from 14,956 acre-feet in 2006 to 52,300 acre-feet in 2020. Similarly, recycled water usage is expected to triple from 14,828 acre-feet in 2006 to 52,300 acre-feet in 2020. The Water Authority is also exploring other potential short-term water transfers. An acre-foot of water is about 326,000 gallons, enough to supply two families of four for a year.

Steiner urged residents, businesses and public agencies around the San Diego region to increase their water conservation immediately. The Water Authority and its 24 member retail water agencies launched a “20-Gallon Challenge” campaign for voluntary water conservation earlier this summer in response to dry conditions that already are depleting water reserves around the state. The 20-Gallon Challenge calls for everyone in the region to reduce their water consumption by 20 gallons per person, per day. Suggested tips are available at www.sdcwa.org.

“The need for all of us to conserve water has never been more urgent,” Steiner said. “The more water we save now, the more water we can keep in storage to meet next year’s needs when water deliveries from the Bay-Delta are being curtailed,” Steiner said.

Steiner said the Water Authority will continue to work with the governor, state legislators, federal officials and other water agencies on determining a long-term solution to the Bay-Delta’s infrastructure, and legal and environmental problems so that the State Water Project will be able to safely and reliably convey water supplies to Southern California.

“While this ruling will determine water deliveries for the next year or so, we are very concerned that its limits could continue under the new permanent rules for operating the State Water Project pumps,” Steiner said.

This ruling does not address the many other challenges imperiling the fragile Bay-Delta – pollution from pesticides, invasive species that compete for the food supply for the Delta smelt, rising sea levels from climate changes, as well as the aging levee system that could give way in an earthquake and cripple the Bay-Delta’s ecosystem and foul its water supplies. Any long-term solution for the Bay-Delta must address all the problems confronting the region.

The Water Authority in 2006 implemented a drought management plan which has detailed steps for dealing with the drought, including a formula for reduction of water supplies to its member agencies. Under the plan, each member agency would decide how it will implement the reduction for its customers. In the same manner, should MWD reduce water supplies, it will be up to the Water Authority to decide how to achieve the water savings or implement that reduction to its member agencies.

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