RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
One of California's huge problems is water. People have been fighting over it for generations. Now, in the midst of a severe drought, there are signs that warring factions may be reaching common ground. NPR's Carrie Kahn has the latest in our series, "Water And The West."
CARRIE KAHN: In Los Angeles, if you're looking for a lot of water, one of the best places to find it is a beer plant. This sprawling Budweiser brewery covers 95 acres in the northern reaches of the city.
Mr. JIM MISTOS(ph) (General Manager, Budweiser Brewery): This is our brew house.
KAHN: Jim Mistos is the brewery's general manager.
Mr. MISTOS: We make about 12 million barrels of beer a year, so we would use about four times that much water a year. So, you can do the math.
KAHN: When the plant was first built here in the '50s, L.A. was smaller and water was cheap. Fast forward a half century, and Mistos says he's now paying nearly as much for water as he pays for his entire staff of 800 employees. Mistos has become an expert on saving every drop he can. Budweiser has invested millions of dollars in reclamation and recycling, and over the past two years they've been using 30 percent less water than before.
All L.A. water users better do the same since this summer, the city will start rationing water. Rates will go up substantially for users who don't conserve. L.A.'s water sources are drying up. The Colorado River is low, and the vast Northern California Bay Delta is in dire ecological straits, so much so that a federal judge drastically cut how much water can be pumped out of it and sent south.
That's angered and brought out old-time foes in the fight.
Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): We need water, we need water, we need water.
KAHN: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger led hundreds of farmers and farm workers in the cry for water at the banks of one of the driest reservoirs in the state's Central Valley.
Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: Farmers are leaving their land unused because they can't count on water. Farm workers are losing their jobs...
KAHN: Farm worker Lauda Lomilie(ph) says dozens of her co-workers at the almond packing house were just laid off. She was wearing a bright blue shirt with red letters that read, turn on the pumps.
Ms. LAUDA LOMILIE: (Spanish language spoken)
KAHN: She asks: Without water, how are the people supposed to live?
Environmental activist Carolee Krieger(ph) says that's a tired, old argument. She says officials are hyping this dry year to scare residents. State reservoirs are actually at 80 percent of normal. Krieger says the governor's plan to spend up to $10 billion on dams, reservoirs in the delta canal is too expensive, and it's not necessary.
Ms. CAROLEE KRIEGER: We believe very firmly that there's enough water in California for all of our needs, but not for greed.
KAHN: Listening to both those sides would seem like nothing has changed in the state since voters resoundingly defeated the so-called peripheral canal proposal more than 25 years ago.
But Jeff Kightlinger(ph), who runs the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, says despite the sometime-noisy rhetoric, a consensus has been growing between water officials and environmentalists.
Mr. JEFF KIGHTLINGER (Metropolitan Water District of Southern California): The current system is unsustainable, and so pretty much everyone agrees on one thing and that is, we don't like the status quo. We're going to have to make changes.
KAHN: Barry Nelson of the Natural Resources Defense Council agrees. He says water managers are talking more about conservation, and environmentalists are willing to explore the idea about a possible canal to bypass the threatened delta.
Mr. BARRY NELSON (Natural Resources Defense Council): And the coming year or two will be interesting to see if those new ideas come to fruition or rather instead, we see the fight we saw 25 years ago with a project that was too big, too expensive, and too damaging to the ecosystem.
KAHN: As in all water fights in California, the devil is in the details. Those details will be released next month in the long-awaited report on the delta, compiled by the governor's office.
Carrie Kahn, NPR News.
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