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Monday, February 10, 2014

Southern California Better Prepared For Drought

The first significant storm to hit Northern California in 14 months produced a good amount of rain and snow over the weekend. But the National Weather Service says it would take weeks of similar storms to end the state’s drought worries.

Water shortages have spurred calls for residents to curb usage. But in Southern California there’s no imminent threat of water rationing. From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Steven Cuevas of KQED explains why.

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Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

This is HERE AND NOW from NPR and WBUR Boston. I'm Jeremy Hobson.

And California got some welcome rain and snow over the weekend. The Bay Area had its biggest storm in more than a year, which is great news when you're in the middle of a historic drought. The storm did not reach Southern California, but it turns out officials there have done a better job saving for an un-rainy day. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, KQED's Steven Cuevas explains why.

STEVEN CUEVAS, BYLINE: Millions of people across Southern California rely on the Metropolitan Water District to keep the spigots and sprinklers flowing. It's the main supplier of water for 26 cities, including Los Angeles.

JEFF KNIGHTLINGER: We supply water to 19 million residents of Southern California, basically one out of every two Californians.

CUEVAS: Jeff Kightlinger is Metropolitan's director. The agency has invested $3 billion in water storage and recycling projects since 2009. That's allowed it to build up reserves that could last through 2016 and avoid rationing this year, though the MWD still draws more than half of its supply from outside sources like the Colorado River and the state water project. But at a recent news conference, Kightlinger said it's possible that MWD might actually be able to give up a portion of its water entitlement from the Colorado. It wouldn't be the first time.

KNIGHTLINGER: Metropolitan was able to jury-rig part of its Colorado River aqueduct and move water beyond capacity.

CUEVAS: That was in 1977, the year that was the benchmark for bad droughts in California until now.

KNIGHTLINGER: This situation is so severe we don't even have supplies up in Northern California that we could exchange. That situation could change. We will look at all available tools to work with the rest of the state in response to this.

CUEVAS: State officials have identified communities in 10 counties that could run out of water within the next few months. Working collaboratively on a drought response is a message that Governor Brown stressed at a meeting with water officials in Los Angeles along with doling out some tried and true practical advice.

GOV. JERRY BROWN: Don't flush more than you have to. Don't shower longer than you need to. And turn the water off when you're shaving or brushing your teeth.

CUEVAS: The governor is also touting his administration's five-year state water action plan. It earmarks nearly $620 million dollars for expanded storage, better groundwater management, recycling and other actions, though strategies have been central to Southern California water planning for years aimed at reducing reliance on imported water from the Colorado, the Owens Valley and other sources. Those efforts include large-scale wastewater recycling partnerships between local water agencies and big industrial and commercial water consumers.

RON WILDERMUTH: We're about two miles from Hyperion Wastewater Treatment Plant. We have a pipeline from there to here.

CUEVAS: Ron Wildermuth is head of governmental affairs at the West Basin Municipal Water District which operates this place, the Edward Little Water Recycling Facility in El Segundo, just south of Santa Monica. Born from the drought of the late 1980s, the facility recycles about 40 million gallons of wastewater a day, much of it is used in oil production at refineries that ring Santa Monica Bay.

WILDERMUTH: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, they've spent $5 billion in the last two decades investing in storage and helping local projects like ours so that we're surviving this drought without restrictions right now.

CUEVAS: Wildermuth says it's great when the governor calls on residents to flush less and take shorter showers.

WILDERMUTH: But we've had 30-year droughts in Southern California. So that's kind of the benchmark we should be prepared for.

CUEVAS: He says there should be even more emphasis on plants for long-term water storage and more ambitious goals for waste water treatment and recycling. Wildermuth says times of drought can also be used to spur lawmakers and other decision makers into pumping even more into California's water management future.

WILDERMUTH: There's a lot of water professionals who believe we should take advantage of the drought to remind people that the golden era of water where you can have as much as you want for any purpose at a cheap price is ending.

CUEVAS: And that everyone across the state is facing a future of water scarcity where better management and greater collaboration are critical. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Steven Cuevas in Los Angeles.

HOBSON: And you're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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