Calif. Prepares For More Drought Restrictions
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
California doesn't need any more economic problems, but it's about to get some courtesy of Mother Nature. The state is in the grip of a three-year-long drought, one of the worst ever. Water rationing is expected for big cities like Los Angeles, and an absolute cut-off of water to some parts of California's lucrative farm belt. The governor has declared a water emergency. And as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, the crisis may cost the state billions.
CARRIE KAHN: It actually snowed and rained a lot in California last month; just not enough.
Mr. JEFF KIGHTLINGER (General Manager, Southern California Metropolitan Water District): Because even a good wet month, like we had in February, we had a good wet month, can't recover from three dry years.
KAHN: Jeff Kightlinger should know. He's the general manager of the Southern California Metropolitan Water District and is responsible for distributing the state's precious resource to 19 million people. Not an easy job in a drought.
Mr. KIGHTLINGER: You know, this is not a happy time to be the head of the water agency right now. But it's why we do with these jobs; we want to get through these challenging periods.
KAHN: Yesterday, state engineers hiked into the Sierra Mountains and measured the amount of water in the snow pack. That's important because it serves as a year-round supply of water for much of the state. The results were better than last month's survey, but not good enough to break the drought. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state emergency and told residents to cut their water use by 20 percent. California's water agency head Lester Snow says if residents don't, the state will have to do it for them.
Mr. LESTER SNOW (Department of Water Resources): We could see for the first time the state invoking mandatory conservation. The strong preference, however, is that local jurisdictions implement their own plans.
KAHN: Dozens of local agencies are already rationing water. L.A.'s Department of Water and Power, one of the largest in the state, is slowly moving in that direction. Next month, the DWP will restrict outdoor watering, the largest use of water in the city, to just two days a week. CEO David Nahai says rationing is next. L.A. residents that don't cut their water use will see their rates double.
Mr. DAVID NAHAI (Los Angeles Department of Water and Power): Really, we have little choice at this point. This is the water reality for the state of California and for the city of Los Angeles.
KAHN: California farmers are facing an even starker reality. Federal officials told them last month that they weren't going to send them any more water. That could be an economic hit in the billions of dollars with as many as 95,000 farming jobs lost. Many water managers and politicians, including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, say long-term fixes must include building new dams, canals and reservoirs. But environmentalist Tom Stokely(ph) says bad policies have created this crisis. Stokely says regulators looked the other way while bureaucrats promised too much water to special interests.
Mr. TOM STOKELY (Environmentalist): It might work out okay if you're having plenty of rain and snow, but when you have a drought like this, there just isn't enough water there. Just like there is enough money in the banks that you're bailing out right now.
KAHN: The fight over whether to spend billions on new dams and reservoirs here isn't new. But the drought has caused it to heat up, and water rationing is all but inevitable.
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KAHN: Frank Burkard(ph) has already cut back on his water use. That's quite a challenge, since he runs a large nursery and landscaping business.
Mr. FRANK BURKARD (Nursery Owner): We have approximately, oh, maybe about five to six hundred varieties of roses. If we don't have them here, we can bring them in. We bring them in every Thursday.
KAHN: His family's nursery has been on this busy corner in Pasadena since the 1930s. Its prized flowers are big favorites in the annual New Year's Day Rose Parade. But Burkard doesn't push his notorious thirsty roses on his customers. He says a few years back he noticed they were already choosing native-drought resistant plants.
Mr. BURKARD: A lot of our customers have been preparing for a lower water usage because, you know, water bills are high.
KAHN: And unless there're some major rain storms in the next few weeks, those water bills will get even higher.
Carrie Kahn, NPR News.
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