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California’s Water Crisis:

California has been experiencing low rainfall and low snowpack conditions since 2007, and the first half of 2009 hasn’t been any better. In June of 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared that there was a statewide drought. Many experts feel these continued conditions could lead to widespread water rationing later this year.

The current drought conditions and the need for long-term solutions to help ensure a sustainable water supply for the future were the subject of a public hearing chaired by State Senator for the 23rd District, Fran Pavley, at Santa Monica College on February 6. This hearing focused specifically on Southern California.

Lester Snow, Director of California Department of Water Resources, explained that last month California’s precipitation was 33 percent of the average and the January 29 snowpack was 61 percent of the average statewide. Therefore, the possibility of receiving enough precipitation this year to alleviate the drought is very low. He also noted that climate change, which has resulted in more extreme weather conditions, is partially responsible for the current drought conditions.

Some state areas are already rationing water and other drought impacts include negative impacts on the state’s construction industry, economic development, hydropower generation, recreational facilities, marine life and on agriculture. Snow remarked, “voluntary efforts to conserve water in 2008 were good, but not sufficient.”

Snow recommended that California focus on long terms solutions, such as increasing water conservation, diversifying regional water supplies, increasing water storage and making sustainable investments. His suggestions for integrated regional water management were to increase conservation, storage, and water recycling, to clean-up groundwater, have flood plan preservation, moving forward with desalination projects, and have a watershed management plan.

There were also presentations by representatives from different Southern California cities, counties and other agencies describing their efforts in water conservation and water management. Ryan Alsop from the City of Long Beach Water Department stated in his remarks that “in Long Beach wasting water is as socially unacceptable as lighting up a cigarette in a crowded public room.”

Senator Pavley, newly appointed Chair of the California State Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water, emphasized during the public comment period that “this was the first of many hearings” on these issues.

The President of Santa Monica based Heal the Bay, Marc Gold, stated in his public comment, “voluntary efforts aren’t going to get us anywhere near where we need to go,” in terms of solving California’s water problems. He then suggesting having mandatory landscaping problems and dealing with the state’s water rights issues.

The Public Review Draft of the California Water Plan Update 2009 is posted at State literature on the Water Plan is the “state’s blueprint for integrated water management and sustainability-statewide and regional.”

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