Three water supply challenges trigger drought alert

New rules and regulations  to protect threatened fish in the Bay-Delta may further impact San Diego County’s imported water sources, Dennis Cushman, assistant general manager of the San Diego Water Authority, told the Ramona Community Planning Group.

Cushman gave a presentation about the county’s water supply at the group’s June 4 meeting, followed by Ralph McIntosh, general manager of the Ramona Municipal Water District, who discussed Ramona’s water restrictions that will take effect on July 1.

In a PowerPoint presentation, Cushman illustrated how the county water supply outlook has switched from a “drought watch” to a “drought alert” because of three challenges to the supply.  One of these challenges is the State Water Project in the Bay-Delta, where regulatory restrictions have limited the amount of imported water supplies for Southern California. While the delta smelt and longfin smelt have been protected, constraining the pumping plant in the Bay-Delta, Cushman said the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) had just announced new rules and regulations to protect the green sturgeon, Central Valley steelhead and the Chinook salmon.

These rules, he said, will “regulate the pumping facilities and other operations within the Bay-Delta and other state water departments.”

Last year San Diego County received 28 percent of its water from the State Water Project in the Bay-Delta. With the new restrictions, that percentage is likely to be less, Cushman said.  

Pumps are being turned down to protect the species. Nine months out of the year—from October through June—pumping is limited, at times severely limited, to protect these fish species, he told the planning group.

“What happens in the north dramatically impacts us,” Cushman said.

Planning group member Angus Tobiason questioned why fish seem more important than people.

“The entire public is being handcuffed to environmentalists,” he said.

Another challenge to the water supply is drought.

“We are in the third year of a drought in California,” said Cushman, adding that the Colorado River, which has been supplying 54 percent of the county’s water, is in its eighth year of a drought.  

The third challenge is low storage. Although local water supply projects have supplied 18 percent of the water, Cushman said, “We’ve been drawing down water reserves.”

With projects designed to increase the local water supply, Cushman explained why water rates have been increasing.  “It has everything to do with where we’re getting our water sources.”

Supply challenges make securing water more expensive. A chart showed how the rates increased as the county had to rely more on the State Water Project and then increased again with spot water transfers.

Projects to boost the local water supply include raising the San Vicente Dam to add up to 152,000 acre-feet  of additional storage, which is slated to be done by 2012, and connecting the Olivenhain Reservoir with Lake Hodges to  provide the ability to move water between the two.

Planner Eb Hogervorst asked how soon a desalination plant would be completed, and Cushman said a final permit for the plant had been obtained after 11 years of effort. The plant should be completed around 2012.



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