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Water Shortages

California has the unfortunate characteristic of being prone to prolonged and severe droughts at any time. The immensity of California enables droughts to occur at different times throughout the state. Vulnerability to dry conditions elicits water reliability to be of the utmost value to water consumers. Customer surveys by water companies have even shown a willingness by consumers to pay higher fees in order to ensure water reliability. As the population of California expands and there is increasing demand on water supplies, reliability may become increasingly difficult to maintain.

California's 2002 population of over 36 million is expected to increase to close to 53 million by the year 2030. Accounting for the use of conservation technologies such as low flow toilets and showerheads, water demands are expected to grow 2 million to 3 million acre-feet per year to meet the growing population. Urban conservation measures, if followed by the existing 35 million Californians, are capable of conserving 1.5 million to 2 million acre-feet per year. Agricultural water conservation can save another 200,000 to 500,000 acre-feet.

Water supplies in California are further challenged by the inverse relationship of the locations of the State's population to its water runoff. Whereas roughly 75% of California's runoff occurs north of Sacramento, 75% of the water demand is south of Sacramento.

When water supplies are not adequate to meet water demands, we are faced with a water shortage which leads to drought conditions in a region. When defining whether or not a state of drought exists, a region must take a subjective look at the current conditions. Many times drought is seen as a gradual phenomenon and as a function of impacts on water users. Another way to define drought is below average rainfall or lowered reservoirs. During the 1987-92 drought, the drought threshold was considered to be runoff for a single year or multiple years in the lowest ten percent of the historical range and reservoir storage for the same time period at less than 70 percent of average.

There are many solutions for dealing with water shortages. The most cost-effective and common is water conservation but other viable methods do exist. Desalination, reclaimed water usage, and cloud seeding are other water shortage solutions whose viability is currently being debated.

Desalination is the process of removing the salt that makes certain bodies of water undrinkable so that the water can be used for household purposes. Sea water desalination seems like the perfect answer to water shortages, after all, one could argue that we have more ocean than we know what to do with! However, the process of desalination is extremely expensive and building new desalination plants is very time-consuming. Additionally, the process of desalination uses tremendous amounts of energy. Hawaii is already investing in desalination technology. At the cost of $6 million a year after the initial $35 million construction cost, Honolulu will have a desalination facility that should be able to meet the 35 million gallon a day demand that is expected by 2025. In California, a $250 million desalination plant is proposed for Long Beach. The plant would produce as much as 50 million gallons of fresh water daily. However, in order to be cost effective, the plant is budgeting to get their electricity for 30-50% less than the going rate. The plant's water would sell for $800 per acre-foot, which is $300 more than imported water and $650 more than local groundwater.

Recycled water is another viable option in times of water shortages. Recycled water is wastewater that has been treated and had contaminants removed. Though the health aspects of recycled water are controversial, most experts agree that it is safe for everything but drinking. There is a big push to use recycled water for all outdoor landscaping and many golf courses and recreation areas are jumping on the recycled bandwagon. The downside of recycled water for residential use is found in the cost of installation of extra pipes. For residential purposes, a home would have two sets of water pipes; one set each for pure and recycled water. In some areas, such as El Dorado County, the water companies are trying to push mandatory ordinances requiring the use of recycled water to irrigate new structures.

One problem with using recycled water for irrigation purposes is that many times treated wastewater is used to refill lakes, streams, and other bodies of water. Recycling the water means that less will be able to flow to those water bodies, which can have an adverse effect on the wildlife thriving in that area.

Cloud seeding has also been introduced as a solution to water shortages. In cloud seeding, tiny crystals of silver iodide are sprinkled over clouds to promote moisture circulating in the clouds. Controversies surrounding cloud seeding revolve around the excessive costs and the lack of conclusive evidence that it is truly effective. In the heat of the summer when the dry conditions are felt the hardest, the issue of cloud seeding may be a moot point since you have to have clouds to seed! You can't make rain out of a blue sky!

Other Factors
Water shortages are not only caused by the pure absence of water but can also be caused by natural disasters. Case in point; the wild fires that just rampaged in Southern California. Fighting these fires consumed an extreme amount of water and the toxic-metal-laced mud from the fire remnants will be washed into water supplies with the first rain, further harming San Diego's water supplies.





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