Opinion Editorials

WATCH: CA's water crisis and what OC needs to keep faucets flowing

Rich Atwater, Executive Director of the Southern California Water Committee, gives an insiders update on California's water crisis, including details on the water bond, how the drought will effect water distribution, and future projects aimed at increasing our local water portfolio. Don't miss this opportunity to get water information from the most knowledgeable source in Southern California.

Bay Delta Conservation Plan Secures Water Supplies for Orange County

By Charley Wilson, Director, Santa Margarita Water District.
Director Wilson also serves as Chairman of the Southern California Water Committee.

Click here to view the editorial as it was printed in the RSM Patch
May 8, 2013
- The Bay Delta Conservation Plan will not only help ensure reliable water delivery to Southern California, but will also restore environmentally sensitive habitat in the Delta Region.

Perhaps a little known fact for local residents…It’s 400 miles away, but Orange County relies heavily on freshwater that originates in the Sierra Nevada and moves through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta). While Orange County has made great strides in finding and utilizing local, alternative sources of water, the vast majority of water used by residents and businesses is still imported – much of it from the Delta.

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What’s unsettling is: the imported water we depend on has become increasingly less reliable. We need to take measured action through the Bay Delta Conservation Plan this year to secure our imported water supplies,
because many parts of Orange County simply do not have enough local supplies to
get by without the Delta.  

The Delta is a network of rivers, streams, marshes and grasslands and is one of the state’s most prized, yet most troubled, environmental resources – it also serves as the primary hub of our statewide water delivery system. Currently, water from the Delta is ushered through by 100-year-old levees that are weak and structurally vulnerable in the event of an earthquake. The U.S. Geological Survey, the national expert on earthquakes, has warned that a 6.7 magnitude earthquake in the Bay Area could lead to salt water rushing into the Delta, contaminating and cutting off this crucial source of water. To use an analogy, the Delta is like a heart, circulating and pumping life blood to our state. But, it's currently broken and in desperate need of open heart surgery.

The economic toll of this seismic event could amount to $40 billion from losses in water supplies, farm productions, wages and jobs and downed utilities. The impacts would be felt throughout California’s economy, and Orange County’s public water agencies would face severe shortages and increasingly costly choices to replace the lost supply.

For example, the 155,000 business and residential customers served by Santa Margarita Water District, the second largest water agency in Orange County, rely almost exclusively on imported supplies because the district has no major local supply source. With an outage in the Delta, our customers, and others, could face water shortages for up to a year and a half.

The ability to import water is what helped make Orange County the nation’s sixth most populous county, headquarters for several Fortune 500 companies and a popular destination spot for tourists from around the world. It is vital that California has the necessary infrastructure in place to securely transport water to the residents, businesses and farms that rely on it, not just in Orange County but across our great state to the 25 million residents, three million acres of farmland and businesses that rely on the Delta.

For the past seven years, the state and federal governments have been thoughtfully crafting a science-based plan that would provide the water supply reliability our state needs and also restore the ailing Delta ecosystem. This proposed plan is called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and will be reaching important milestones this year. It is a habitat restoration plan that includes the construction of a new twin tunnel conveyance system that would protect water supplies from the destruction and saltwater invasion that an earthquake could cause. The tunnels would also allow the state to have increased flexibility in moving freshwater out of the Sacramento River, by allowing them to pump more water during wet years, and scale back pumping during dry years. This flexibility is essential to water management, and it’s a flexibility we do not have today under the current system.

Arguably the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is a major investment for our state, but one worth making. It is high time we upgraded our statewide water delivery infrastructure…doing anything less is turning a blind eye to a looming crisis. Governor Brown has made this proposed project one of his priority focuses for his administration in 2013 and we need to support its careful evaluation and encourage steady progress. Public water agencies have stepped up to the plate and agreed to provide the funding for construction and operation of the new facility because we know the cost of inaction will be far greater. If we delay, the cost of rebuilding the system and making these new investments after a major earthquake could be much higher.

Completion of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan will protect Orange County and the rest of the state from potentially devastating water supply losses, which is why businesses, local governments, water agencies, farmers and more have voiced support for this important project. To learn more, visit www.socalwater.org/delta-disrupted and www.baydeltaconservationplan.com.



It's time for action on Delta proposal

By Charley Wilson, Director, Santa Margarita Water District.
Director Wilson also serves as Chairman of the Southern California Water Committee.

Click here to view the editorial as it was printed in the Ventura County Star
September 22, 2012
- Southern Californians know that a big quake here would be devastating, but they should also know that a quake 400 miles away would take a toll on the whole state.

The hub of California's water supply lies just east of San Francisco, and it's a disaster waiting to happen. That's the bad news. The good news is that a plan is advancing to protect against that disaster — the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

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We've been repeatedly warned by leading scientists, engineers, water managers and other experts that a significant portion of the state's water supply could be wiped out for months if a major earthquake strikes Northern California.

Studies show that a 6.7 magnitude temblor in the Bay Area could contaminate and cut off a key drinking water supply for two out of three Californians, with impacts cascading throughout the state, including Ventura County.

At the core of this issue is the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a network of rivers, streams, marshes and grasslands — one of the state's most prized, yet most troubled, environmental resources and also the route for much of the state's water supply.

The Delta channels water that is delivered to 25 million people, businesses and farms throughout California. But that water is ushered through by 100-year-old levees that are weak and structurally vulnerable.

If the levees don't stand up to an earthquake, water from the San Francisco Bay will rush into the Delta, turning freshwater into saltwater. The economic toll of this seismic event could amount to $40 billion from losses in water supplies, farm production, wages and jobs and downed utilities.

For more than three decades, the state has been grappling with how to best address the mounting problems in the Delta, and we are finally on the verge of moving forward on a solution.

That solution, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, is advancing under the oversight of the Brown and Obama administrations. After five years of research and analysis of various options, Gov. Jerry Brown and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the project framework for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan in late July.

The proposed project will include major reconstruction of the state's water delivery system — a new pair of 35-mile-long tunnels — along with significant habitat restoration.

The water that goes to water agencies in the Bay Area, Central Coast, Central Valley and Southern California would be routed underneath the Delta and moved through the new tunnels, instead of through the fragile estuary and levee system.

The project would restore reliability to our water supply, protect it from floods and earthquakes, improve water quality, all while restoring and protecting the Delta ecosystem.

We simply can't afford to continue on with the status quo — the risks are just too great. Constructing the new tunnels will be an estimated $14 billion investment, paid for by the water agencies and their ratepayers that benefit from the project. If we delay, the cost of rebuilding the system and making these new investments after a major earthquake could be much higher.

With five years of planning and more than 300 public meetings already complete, at a cost of over $150 million, the state is currently undertaking the extensive environmental review process. The first public draft of the environmental impact report is expected later this fall.

It is now time to turn study into reality. It's time to build a project that will give California another 50 years of water supply reliability.





By John Schatz, General Manager, Santa Margarita Water District, and Lucy Dunn, President and CEO, Orange County Business Council

March 27, 2012
- With the twist of a faucet handle, a little stream from the Sacramento area completes a journey of hundreds of miles, from lakes and rivers through tunnels and pipes, to Orange County where affordable and high-quality water sustains our businesses, economy and communities. This is our most valuable “import.” Did you know that Orange County gets its water from a Northern California area known as the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and from the Colorado River?

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Imported water is “liquid gold” and helped make Orange County the nation’s sixth most populous county, headquarters for several Fortune 500 companies and a popular destination spot for tourists from around the world.

While they probably don’t realize it, 155,000 residents served by the county’s second largest water district, Santa Margarita Water District or SMWD, rely almost exclusively on this “import” because the District has no major local supply source.

Recurring drought cycles and potential natural disasters like earthquakes threaten the future deliveries of imported water—and the future of this county. We must prepare for the day when imported water may be substantially reduced or no longer available, if we wish to protect Orange County businesses, communities and the economy.

The bad news: because of dry conditions, California officials recently notified local water agencies that they will only receive 50% of their legally-entitled deliveries from the State Water Project—a complex network of reservoirs, aqueducts and pumps that store and deliver water throughout California. The impact is significant because the State Water Project is the nation’s largest state-built water conveyance system, supplying water to two out of every three Californians. Even in wet years, the State Water Project delivered far less than what is allowed because of environmental conditions and regulatory restrictions.

Long-term, future water supplies are not reliable. Leading experts say an earthquake of 6.7 magnitude or greater would wipe out a significant portion of the State Water Project, potentially causing its 100-year-old levees in the Delta to collapse, allowing water from the San Francisco Bay to rush into the Delta and turn freshwater into saltwater.

With losses estimated at $40 billion statewide, the results would be devastating to California’s economy and its water supplies, leaving SMWD and other water providers with severe shortages and limited options to meet demands. The state is working on a solution to this Delta crisis, advancing the Bay Delta Conservation Plan which will restore habitat and restore water supply reliability with the construction of a new water delivery system. However, that fix will take at least a decade to complete and we need to look regionally for solutions to ensure our water future.

Community leaders throughout the county are preparing for potential disruptions in water imports by encouraging conservation, recycling and innovative local supply solutions. Its customers are using 25 percent less water today than they did 10 years ago. SMWD, for example, operates one of the largest recycled water reservoirs in Orange County--the Upper Oso Reservoir.

Further, SMWD partnered with four other water agencies on the $54 million Upper Chiquita Reservoir, creating the largest domestic water reservoir built in south Orange County in 45 years. This reservoir will provide drinking water to some 500,000 South County residents for up to one week in an emergency.

We rely on local water agencies to be leaders in this region, pressing for bold action to eliminate threats to our water resources. For example, SMWD is conducting an extensive environmental review to determine the feasibility of the Cadiz Project, a potential new source of water and storage from a large, renewable aquifer in the Mojave Desert in San Bernardino County. The proposed project is designed to conserve and utilize water from nearby watersheds otherwise being lost to evaporation.

Rather than a “silver bullet” solution, the answer to water reliability results from a volley of well-aimed arrows: aggressive conservation, groundwater replenishment systems, recycling, water quality improvements, desalination, and new storage facilities (like SMWD’s reservoir)—all tactics tried, true and innovative—to supply a growing population with water while preserving a vibrant environment.

For Orange County to have a dependable, sustainable and dynamic economy, we need a diversified portfolio of water resources, not merely reliance on precious “imports.” Orange County’s innovative local solutions have always lead the way so affordable and high-quality water continues to flow and ensure a strong future for business and residents alike.


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