Friday, May 02, 2008

CALIFORNIA FACES WATER RATIONING

SF CHRONICLE Two parched years - punctuated by the driest spring in at least 150 years - could force districts across California to ration water this summer as policymakers and scientists grow increasingly concerned that the state is on the verge of a long-term drought. State water officials reported Thursday that the Sierra Nevada snowpack, the source of a huge portion of California's water supply, was only 67 percent of normal, due in part to historically low rainfall in March and April.

With many reservoirs at well-below-average levels from the previous winter and a federal ruling limiting water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the new data added a dimension to a crisis already complicated by crumbling infrastructure, surging population and environmental concerns.

"We're in a dry spell if not a drought," said California Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman. "We're in the second year, and if we're looking at a third year, we're talking about a serious problem."

Chrisman stopped short of saying the state would issue mandatory water rationing, which appears possible only if the governor declares a state of emergency. Rather, the burden will fall on local water agencies. Many, such as San Francisco and Marin County, have asked residents and businesses over the past year to cut water usage voluntarily by 10 to 20 percent.

Others have taken more drastic steps.

In Southern California, the water district serving about 330,000 people in Orange County enacted water rationing last year, due in part to a ruling by U.S. Judge Oliver Wanger reducing water pumped from the delta by about a third to protect an endangered fish.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District announced in April that it was considering water rationing, price increases and other measures in response to critically low reservoirs. The district, which serves 1.3 million customers in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, will vote on the measures this month.