Monday, February 15, 2010

How It Gets Here

The massive water infrastructure that draws water from the Sierras and the Bay Delta to supply southern California is a marvel of engineered water channels, tunnels pumping stations and treatment plants. This is the MWD water system, supplying Southern California with its imported water supply to supplement the wells that draw down our aquifers.

I was on a Metropolitan Water District field trip in 2001 out to Lake Havasu and Parker Dam and back. It started out along the Colorado River Aqueduct from the Weymouth Filtration Plant to Diamond Valley Lake and the Copper Basin Dam and Reservoir. Next it was on to to the Hinds Pumping Plant (shown in photo - click to enlarge) and the old Gene basin reservoir to understand how the system uses power and complex control facilities to pump those tons of water supplies up over the hills and down into Los Angeles.

I took a second MWD field trip in 2003 from Sacramento along the California Aqueduct up through the Bay Delta area around Oroville Dam and reviewed MWD materials regarding the water issues in habitat restoration and the restoration of the San Joaquin River flows. The ecosystem restoration in the Bay Delta was considered successful by the MWD at that point, despite not yet having addressed the levee and salinity issues, and the Peripheral Canal was then off the table. There was quite a bit of greenwashing by MWD to the point that growing rice (intensive water use) was justified by saying it was bird food.

One of the best water resource books that I've used is "Water and Land Use" by Karen Johnson and Jeff Loux. It explains the basics behind the numbingly complex legislation and water rights in our Byzantine water supply structure. It's still difficult to grasp the fiscal and political realities behind the watersupply plumbing system that I've had the opportunity to observe. The book shows in clear diagrammatic form the process involved by the water purveyors to prove that they have the resources to provide for the amount of development contained in City General Plans. Water use and Land use are thus intertied in the General Plan documents. This is analyzed in the Governor's Office of Planning and Research, which is responsible for overseeing the CEQA process.

We're now in a permanent period of severe water shortage, not the least of which is due to a built water supply in Southern California for 3 or 4 million people, and now it's pushing 20 million population. This situation is creating a new water market that involves a water transfer system, which is supposed to balance out water supplies. This will be very expensive, similar to the power shortages California experienced in 2001, where the system was gamed for money. The Department of Water Resources oversees the water contracts and the projection of water needs throughout the state, and will be where the action is in the next few years as water allocations face reality in this permanent climate change.

Meantime, the MWD site posts a rather ridiculous call to "conserve" water and consume 20% less while Sacramento is handing out CEQA waivers for huge developments that will massively increase urban water demand. At the behest of these same regional agencies that got the legislature to pass SB 375 and a recent new batch of "allowances".

Supply and demand, I suppose? Follow the money.

Related articles: Water and Sheila Kuehl, Legal Water, Water is Always Politics, Water Redoux, Bay Delta Crisis, Water-Paper-Scissors