September 9, 2008

Code an Empty Well for Conservation

By Chet F. Anderson

A reasonable person would not now doubt that California and the West are in a drought that may have begun eight years ago. Statewide water agencies have for months - some for years - been responding to what is turning into a full-blown crisis which could have an impact on the economy of California for years to come.

There is only limited water to be had, and that water's price is rising. Even if rains come this winter, it will not be enough. It rained last winter in December, January and February, and then we had the driest March and April in history. We can't afford to wait again for rain. The only way to deal with this looming crisis is to conserve water now. There are no clever ways of getting around it.

The State Water Project, which the city of Redlands has claimed to be a source of its water, is unreliable and this year was able to supply only 30 percent of the water that contracting agencies were allotted. Lake Oroville, the largest reservoir in the State Water Project system, is down to levels not seen since 1977 and is dropping rapidly. However, California now has 64 percent more population than it had in 1977, so comparisons to the past are irrelevant. Likewise, the Colorado River is extremely low, and unable to meet water demands made on it.

Locally, storage reservoirs are rapidly depleting and will require refilling when and if the water situation improves.

And yet, while cities and water agencies around the state have declared water emergencies and placed restrictions on development that current and projected water supplies will not support, the city of Redlands continues to pay lip service to water conservation and blithely conduct business as usual. Even after Gov. Schwarzenegger issued a statewide drought declaration on June 4, the city's response was half-hearted and grudging, and, according to published reports, misleading. If the city has a plan as leaders say they do, it is not yet evident.

When Redlands Mayor Harrison was asked at a recent town hall meeting whether the city was contemplating penalties for wasting water, the mayor's answer was that the city could not control how people watered their lawns. Unfortunately, the mayor is correct. The Redlands Municipal Code contains requirements that make certain that the process of putting water-conservation measures into effect is so onerous and time consuming that the code provisions are toothless.

It is time for the city to show some leadership by recognizing that there is a water crisis affecting all of the state, that Redlands is affected by that crisis, and that business and development as usual is not appropriate under these crisis conditions.

But Redlands residents should not wait for the city to act. Now is the time to conserve. Those who believe that local water is assured should think again. The suffering water agencies of the state are not going to stand idly by and watch "water rich" communities hoard or waste water. Lt. Gov. Garamendi has stated that agencies that have water may be asked to share it with those who don't. Like it or not, all Californians will have to share the pain. Although the city of Redlands has legal rights to use local water, the waters of the state of California belong, by law, to the "people" of the state, not to agencies or to individuals.

If there are those still worried about keeping a green lawn, and pay no mind to water that runs into the gutters, they should recognize that they're wasting not only their water, they're also wasting mine.

Chet F. Anderson is a resident of Redlands. He is a civil engineer who specializes in water management.

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