Southern California's ability to get
water is about to become a really big deal.
During any mid-afternoon stroll through Santa Clarita in
August it might appear that our beautiful little city is lush with green grass,
impeccably landscaped back yards and trees in every direction.
However, the triple-digit temperatures reveal the truth
about Santa Clarita; it, like most of Southern California,
is a desert.
Of the water we drink, swim in, and irrigate our lawns with,
about half is naturally occurring groundwater. The other half is imported from
our water-rich neighbors in northern California.
We've seen the aqueduct just up the I-5 and 14 freeways, and
that system is what physically transports the water from up there to down here.
But further up the line, there's a big problem, and it could send local water
bills through the roof.
The Delta is an ecological system near Sacramento,
from which much of southern California's
water is pumped. The system was put into use in the 1960's, and since then it
has slowly changed that ecological environment.
Now, species are beginning to die out. A small fish called
the Delta smelt has nearly vanished and several other animals are in sharp
decline. The Winter-run Chinook Salmon population, for example, has taken a
major hit due to man-made water storage and conveyance solutions. To see a list
of all threatened plant, mammals and fish in the Delta, click here .
There are several ways California's
water conveyance system can interfere with wildlife. Dams collect water and
pump a specified amount through. The resulting water flow becomes the remaining
river. However, when dams pump the water, only the top portion of the water
flow is taken. This surface water is warmer than the water found in other
depths, thus it dramatically changes the water temperatures down river. Many
species have not been able to survive in the warmer water.
Another way water manipulation can take its toll on nature
is by physically changing the flow of water. When dams are created and water
routes are altered, the migrating fish cannot adapt.
The problem has grown so bad that a judge has intervened,
drastically cutting the amount of water that can be pumped from the Delta. This means that southern California
will only be receiving a fraction of the water we normally get.
Water companies like Castaic Lake Water Agency have reserves
of water stored for emergencies. However, the clock is ticking, and until state
legislators can come up with a solution to the Delta problem, everyone is being
forced to prepare for indefinite water shortages.
"You need to understand that just because you go to the tap
and it runs today, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be reliable
in the future," said BJ Atkins, who holds a seat on the Newhall County Water District
board of Directors and is appointed to the Castaic Lake Agency board.
In the near future that could mean higher water bills for
residents, renewed conservation efforts, and potentially higher food prices
because agricultural districts are set to receive almost no water from the
Atkins joined a group of Santa Clarita residents on a trip
to Sacramento March 23-24th, where
water was one of the main topics of discussion with state leaders.
"We're making sure that our legislators understand the
gravity of the situation, and that the fixes that have to take place are on the
way," he said.
On that trip, the community group met with Assembly member
Jared Huffman, who is the chair of the Water Parks and Wildlife committee.
Huffman told the group that five water bonds will be proposed by different
legislators, including one from his office. Each approach the problem to
varying degrees, and some will propose a separate water conveyance system that
bypasses the Delta altogether.
Bypassing the Delta was an original component of the water
conveyance plan, however previous attempts to pass it as part of a water bond
Not wanting to do more harm to the environment in the search
for a long term cure, many of the proposals are likely to include additional
measures like water recycling, or desalinization, which Huffman says is
becoming more viable.
Atkins warns that when a water bond does come before the
voters, it should be taken seriously.
"This is our last chance," he said.