Worried California Governor Pumps Water Storage Plan

SACRAMENTO, California, July 17, 2007 (ENS) - Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger Monday gathered state and local officials on the bank of the shrinking San Luis Reservoir to raise public support for his $5.9 billion water storage program.

High temperatures, low rainfall, and a growing population have led to a "water crisis" across the state, said the governor, pointing to marks on the walls of the reservoir where the water levels used to be.

"This reservoir has now only 25 percent of its capacity," he said. "This is only because this last winter was dry, and also we turned off our giant Delta pumps for nine days because we want to protect the fish called the Delta smelt."

"If we have another dry season like this I would say that it will be catastrophic, it will be a disaster," said the governor.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger with state officials at the San Luis reservoir. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
The southern third of the state is in an "extreme" drought condition, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report, while drought is "severe" or "moderate" across the rest of the state. Since January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared drought disasters in 17 California counties.

Water districts are asking people to cut their water usage by 10 percent, and two districts in Sonoma and Santa Cruz counties have imposed mandatory water rationing.

Water officials in San Diego County have asked residents to curtail unnecessary water use during daylight hours, following a June call to cut daily water use by 20 gallons per person.

Governor Schwarzenegger says the state is vulnerable now because there is not enough water storage capacity in place to capture rain when it does come.

Last year, brought torrential rains, and the governor argues that California could have captured 2.7 million additional acre feet of water if the two reservoirs he wants to build were in place at the time.

"My comprehensive plan calls for $5.9 billion in water bonds - $4.5 billion dollars to get more water storage, above the ground and below the ground water storage, $1 billion to fix the Delta, which means to build more conveyance, and $450 million will be for conservation and restoration," he said at the reservoir.

But the California Senate on April 24 voted against the governor's proposal. The Democrat majority in the state Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee killed the bill on a 4-3 party-line vote.

State Senator Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat led the opposition, arguing that the plan is too costly and too little is known about how it would help California out of the water crisis.

Environmentalists who oppose the dams cite research showing that, contrary to popular perception, hydroelectric projects emit greenhouse gases.

Several studies have shown that reservoirs can be net emitters of both carbon dioxide and methane, contributing to global warming.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California is a supporter. In an April meeting in Washington, she endorsed Schwarzenegger's water infrastructure plan.

At the reservoir, Randy Fiorini, president of the Association of California Water Agencies said, "Seeing it so low today is troubling, and a stark preview of what's to come if we don't invest now in our statewide water infrastructure," he said. "The water supply that fills this reservoir and keeps our cities and farms going is at risk."

Two-thirds of the state gets its water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, and "it is literally one big storm or one big earthquake away from disaster," Fiorini said.

"We need swift action now on a comprehensive water plan that includes more surface water storage, improved Delta conveyance that protects water quality and the environment, and expanded water efficiency programs," said Fiorini. "California's future hangs in the balance; that's why we're here today."

San Luis reservoir in 2002 when water levels were higher than they are today. (Photo credit unknown)


Steve Patricio, chairman of the board of the Western Growers Association, was at the San Luis reservoir with his family in August 1962 when President John Kennedy dedicated the reservoir.

While California's population has grown from 15 million then to nearly 40 million today, no new reservoirs have been built, but more water storage is urgently needed, Patricio said.

Due to technological developments in efficient water usage and conservation, California farmers today use less water than they used in the 1960s, while producing higher yields of high value crops, said Patricio.

"The water saved by agriculture has helped fuel California's population growth. But the time has come to prepare for the needs of future generations," he said.

Gazing out over the diminished reservoir, Schwarzenegger cited a state Department of Finance report released last week that said California would grow to 60 million people by the year 2050.

"We don't have enough water," he said. "At the same time we have to put so much pressure on the Delta over the years that we have broken down the system. ... We must act now."

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta supplies water to 25 million people in California and is the lifeblood of California's $32 billion agriculture industry, irrigating millions of acres of highly productive farmland.

But the Delta is vulnerable to salt water contamination from rising sea levels and natural disasters. Its 1,100 miles of deteriorating levees are at risk of failure due to earthquakes and major flood events.

Later this year, the governor's Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force is due to recommend actions to protect and restore the Delta.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.