Free Water Shortage In South California Research Paper Sample

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Water, California, Supply, Infrastructure, River, Storage, Lake, City

Pages: 9

Words: 2475

Published: 2021/03/03


The consensus from scientists and resource experts seemed to be that, as early as 2008, the United States of America, not just Southern California, will be facing an era of water scarcity (Schneider, 2008). More than 10 years ago, the General Accounting Office, an investigative link of the U.S. Congress, surveyed water managers in 36 states. And the consensus was an anticipated water shortage statewide, or at least locally or regionally, within the next 10 years. Nearly all Californians believe that water shortage is a serious problem in the state (Reuters, 2015).
However, Southern California plays a crucial role both in the state of California and the entire Union. It is, for instance, the nation’s nexus of subcontracting activity for NASA’s prime aerospace contracts and Los Angeles County plays the same role in the region (Scott, 1993).
Southern California is only a few square kilometers more than a third of the state’s land area. However, its population of more than 22 million comprises at least 60 percent of the state’s total population, resulting to a higher population density of 153 people per square kilometer of land compared to 91 for the entire state. It consists of 10 counties: Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern, Ventura, San Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Imperial. It is the location of three of the top 18 metropolitan cities in America: Los Angeles, San Diego, and Riverside. Despite increases in population, availability of water supply continues to dwindle.
Moreover, water scarcity in Southern California is relatively more serious than the northern side due to significant difficulty in finding new sources and acquiring, once found, is high (Hodges, Hansen, & McLeod, 2014). Compared to other regions, Southern Californians believed in the worsening of water supply (Reuters, 2015). This paper will attempt to understand the extent of this shortage as well as measures to augment supply.

Literature Review

Extensiveness of water shortage
The California Agriculture estimated the three-year drought impact to include the reduction of surface water by 6.6 million acre-feet (AF) and groundwater pumping increase by 5 million AF, giving a net water shortage of 1.6 million AF. The statewide total economic loss was estimated to reach US$2.2 billion and total job loss at 17,100 (Howitt, et al., 2014). However, the good news about the agriculture industry comes from its reliance on the Colorado River for water supplies, which remained less affected by the drought. Still there were direct crop revenue losses (US$10 million) and increased costs from groundwater pumping (US$6.3 million).
Still the Colorado River has been dwindling gradually under the 14-year history of drought in Southern California. Man-made reservoirs around it, from the Rockies to southern Arizona, had shrunk to below half of their capacities (Wines, 2014). Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir is receiving less water from Lake Powell for the first time. This increased reduction of Lake Mead will affect the millions of acres of Los Angeles farmlands, which crucially depend upon it. If the Colorado water sources becomes permanently dried, only difficult options are available for the Southern Californians. And there are too few new sources to make a serious dent on the huge shortage.
Drought is expected to continue in 2015 and 2016 with aquifers overdraft and groundwater levels reduced. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWDSC) stated that, should it lose its water supply from the Colorado River and the Northern California, there would be no current technology and new water supplies that could replace that loss (Wines, 2014).
A look at the storage levels of Southern California water reservoirs in March 2014 reveals the extent of the water supply problem in the region (Southern California Association of Governments [SCAG], 2014). The San Luis reservoir, which has a historical average of 39 percent of storage capacity, holds only around 33 percent, a drop of 6 percent. Millerton Lake had 32 percent from historical 49 percent, a decline of 17 percent. Pine Flat reservoir had 19 percent from historical 37 percent, or a drop of 18 percent. Pyramid Lake continued to be high at 98 percent; although a 5 percent lower than its historical average of 103 percent. Castaic Lake also had a storage level of 85 percent; but 13 percent lower than its 98 percent historical average. The smallest decline of storage level was in Pyramid Lake and the largest in the Pine Flat.
Moreover, these levels had been crucially below its historical driest storage levels. For instance, the San Luis reservoir, which has a total capacity of 2.039 million AF, recorded a storage level of 1.2 million AF in its driest year in history (1976-1977). The level recorded in this reservoir on 3 March 2014 was only 679,907 AF, around half of its driest March historically (SCAG, 2014). Based on applied water use records, agricultural irrigation constitutes the highest consumer of water, four times that of the urban water use levels. Conversely, waters flowing in wild and scenic rivers closely vary with the annual rainfall levels.
Accounting for the combined contributions of snow, river and reservoir storage, soil water, and groundwater, the beginning 2014 water storage in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Basin has gone below 25 cubic kilometers of its normal low for the same time of the year historically (SCAG, 2014). The water cycle change has also gone below its averages changes, indicating recharging problems of underground water supply.
In 2014, total water demand reached 2.0 million AF, supplied by SWP (600,000 AF) and CRA (1.8 million AF). The balance is supplied by regional storage sources (SCAG, 2014).


Variable to low precipitation: Southern California received highly limited rainfall in most days of the year (Welch, 2009). Variability in climate causes consequent variation in the recharging of water sources, most especially the surface water (Hodges, Hansen, & McLeod, 2014). With replenishing the groundwater difficult in the absence of wet years, water tables fall in levels, reducing regional pumping capacity while increasing pumping energy costs (Howitt, et al., 2014).
Drought: Since 2009, the entire state of California experienced a continuing yearly drought (Hodges, Hansen, & McLeod, 2014). The current drought affecting the state had been on its fourth consecutive year (Reuters, 2015). As of 2014, it is considered responsible for the greatest absolute reduction in water availability, primarily due to high agricultural demands and low reservoir levels and stream flows. Thus, it is expected to reduce surface water by a third. Groundwater may also replace around 75 percent of surface water for agricultural use, increasing its share in the agriculture water supply to 53 percent from 31 percent pre-drought. So far Southern California farms are less affected (Howitt, et al., 2014).

Controlling water agencies and specific water sources

Controlling water agencies: The largest water agency in Southern California is the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWDSC). The California Department of Water Resources (CDWR) supplies the rest of the regional areas that are outside the MWDSC service area. However, although not located within the region, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has a controlling impact in the region due to its upstream location.
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWDSC): The MWDSC is a California-Legislature created cooperative that supplies treated water in the Southern Carolina region. Its 26 member-agencies consist of 14 cities, 12 municipal water districts, and 1 wholesaler agency (San Diego County Water Authority [SDCWA]). The MWDs are themselves cooperatives of sub-agencies, which also include cities and smaller MWDs (O’Connor, 1998). It is the largest treated water supplier in the US and in Southern California, covering an area of 5,200 square miles and serving around 18 million of residents and a retail demand of 4 million AF, of which the MWDSC managed to provide only about half. It obtains its sources from the Colorado River Aqueduct (CRA), which it is exclusively licensed to operate and distribute to its members, and from CDWR. From 1980 to 2010, it has increased its storage capacity 14 times (SCAG, 2014).
California Department of Water Resources: The CDWR operates the State Water Project (SWP), which receive feeds from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta (SSJRD) (San Diego, 2015). It supplies regional areas outside the MWDSC service areas such as large parts of San Diego, San Bernardino, and Riverside (Zetland, 2008).
Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA): The SNWA has direct control of the Lake Mead, a crucial and the largest water reservoir in America that supplies the Colorado River. It supplies most of Los Angeles farmlands also through the Colorado River. Its ongoing dwindling of water level may result to the rationing of its downstream supply. As of 2014, it stood at 1,106 feet above sea level but expected to reach 20 feet lower at the end of 2014. Rationing would begin at 1,075 feet, which becomes more drastic at 1,050 feet and could shut down water intake for Las Vegas. If its water level declined to below 1,000 feet, the SNWA will lose its pumping capacity to serve the municipal needs of 70 percent of people in the state of Nevada (Wines, 2014).
Specific sources of water supply: There are many sources that can provide water supply or augment available water supply in Southern California, such as groundwater, winter snow, and surface waters, such as the Colorado River and SSJRD (already discussed above).
Ground water: Southern California relies heavily on water imports through aqueducts from the Owens Valley (eastern California), the Sierra Nevada (via Sacramento-Joaquin Delta), and the Colorado River (Welch, 2009). These aqueducts are the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the California Aqueduct, and the Colorado River Aqueduct, which all converge into the local groundwater basin where the MWDSC takes its water supply (SCAG, 2014). There is also the underlying Ogallala Aquifer, the largest in the US, which may be tapped at least for potable drinking water. However, these are limited sources with low recharge rates, and practically unsustainable (Schneider, 2008).
Winter snow: The winter snow provides much of the state water’s recharge source for groundwater (Schneider, 2008). However, even occasional winter storms, with as much as 30-cm rain level, had been considered inadequate to correct the ongoing drought (Reuters, 2015). The February 2014 snow was only 12 percent of the normal regional snowpack. The March level increased but still only 22 percent of the normal. An apparent decrease even in snowpack is of serious concern. As of 4 March 2014, the average water equivalent of snow in Southern California was 8.3 inches, around the same level for the state of California, which was 8.4 inches (SCAG, 2014). The snowpack in the upper Colorado basin also turned up higher at 14.26 inches in equivalent water compared to normal, a 111 percent increase, even far higher than the previous years. This source of water provides an important contribution in keeping the water levels in the Colorado Basin higher than expected under the current drought conditions.

Current Solutions

In-stream environmental water supply continues to be the largest source throughout the region, a level which the statewide, federal and local projects had been trying to duplicate since before 2001 (SCAG, 2014). The 2010 IRP strategy has focused its water sourcing on the conservation, water supplies, and the storage and transfer method. Some solutions already implemented in the respective cities are found below:
Water use restrictions: A form of water conservation, the water restriction intervention (e.g. in lawn watering) has indicated large water savings as early as 2009 (Welch, 2009). It cut regional water use by 15 percent in 2009 with Los Angeles achieving the largest decrease at more than 18 percent. The largest water conservation outcomes emanated from homes, not from business or industrial users. Consequently, homes suffered from dying to dead grass lawns. Single-family homes logged a reduced use of more than 23 percent. Lawn watering ban allowed only 15 minutes of use a day; but never from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. when evaporation occurs the greatest. Lawn owners alternatively had opted for no-water grasses and low-water plants such as rosemary, lilac, and yuccas (some even switched to synthetic grass). Permits for building constructions were restricted heavily to conserve water (Schneider, 2008).
Importing: Water may be imported from other regions with abundant water supply. However, the transfer cost can be prohibitive, limiting its usefulness (Hodges, Hansen, & McLeod, 2014), not to mention the fact that the drought has afflicted the whole state. Adjacent user transfers usually provide much cheaper price for water, though. Potential water sources for this approach include the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District (HBMWD), which is located in Eureka. The suggested mode of transportation is by tugboat.
Desalination plants: San Diego is almost through in its building of a desalination plant on its Pacific shore (Wines, 2014). The 3 desalination projects of the MWDSC are still in the planning stage with no investments made as of 2014 (SCAG, 2014). This has the most potential for long-term sustainability due to the limitless abundance of seawater.
Farm flattening laser technology: Wines (2014) proposed that a laser technology that can flatten agricultural fields can reduce water runoff and help retain rainfall in their farms.
Recycling of sewage: The MWDSC is recycling sewage effluent to reduce wastage of used water (Wines, 2014). It has already invested in 64 projects, which already supplied 1.49 million FA (SCAG, 2014). The Southern Nevada has implemented a piping-treatment system that can be used in Southern California wherein all indoor water usage (e.g. dishwashing, toilet usage, and bathtubs usage) are returned to Lake Mead through a treatment stage.

Groundwater recovery: The MWDSC has already invested in 21 projects for groundwater recovery, delivering 530,000 FA in 2014 (SCAG, 2014).

Delta outflow reduction: In 2014, the MWDSC had reduced the delta outflow requirement to its minimum possible and increased flexibility in the Delta Cross Channel operations (SCAG, 2014).
Water-saving devices: The MWDSC distributes high-efficiency water nozzles in order to reduce wastage rates from pipes and faucets (Wines, 2014). It is also subsidizing the use of artificial turf and zero-water urinals.
Rainwater harvesting: One conservation method, which can be implemented in urban areas, is rain harvesting through the use of storage tanks that gather directly from rainfalls and snow from rooftops. The rainwater collected may be used in home cleaning and plant watering (SCAG, 2014).


Cost, of course, is not an adequate basis for choosing the best augmentation approach to the Southern California water supply. It should be conservation and long-term sustainability. It has been established that the natural sources of water in Southern California (groundwater and surface water) are no longer sustainable due to a persistent negative replenishment/extraction ratio. However, the potentially higher cost of desalinized water seemed to make the water authorities and the politicians want to avoid considering the use of desalination as its primary source of potable water in the region.
The attitudes of Southern Californian water authorities towards desalination as the primary source of potable and industrial water indicate their state of denial on the long-term deleterious situation in their water supply, trying to hold on to the notion that they can still continue drawing from surface and ground water sources without impacting on long-term supply availability. This mindset is of serious concern as preponderant use of desalinized seawater can allow the natural sources to be recharged and recover from depletion brought by the extended drought in the state or at least use these resources at a limited level that provides a positive replenishment/extraction ratio. Their actions seem to be that they will insist on consuming all natural sources of water before they would even think of using desalinized water for most of their daily needs.
Such a perspective lacks foresight. Overdraft in the groundwater and surface water supplies means having to go through a period of insecurity and shock when they realize in the future that these supplies are gone and could take decades to replenish completely before they take action towards adopting the desalination technology. Nevertheless, that is something that the citizens of Southern California had to decide for themselves and consequently suffer with.


Hodges, A., Hansen, K., & McLeod, D. (2014, December 3). The economics of bulk water
transport in Southern California. Resources, 3(1): 703-720.
Howitt, R.E., Medellin-Azuara, J., MacEwan, D., et al. (2014). Economic analysis of the 2014
drought for California agriculture. Davis, California: Center for Watershed Sciences, University of California, Davis; pp.20.
Reuters. 2015, February 26). Nearly all California voters think water shortage is a serious
problem. Huffington
San Diego. (2015). From source to tap: Water sources. San Available at: 17 Apr. 2015.
Schneider, K. (2008). U.S. faces era of water scarcity. Circle of Blue Water News.
Scott, A.J. (1993, April). Interregional subcontracting patterns in aerospace industry: The
Southern California nexus. Economic Geography, 69(2): 142-156.
Southern California Association of Governments. (2014, March 6). Southern California’s Water
Future: Issues, challenges and potential solutions California: Southern California Association of Governments; pp.70
Welch, W.M. (2009, December 23). In drought, California learns importance of going green.
USA Today.
Wines, M. (2004, January 5). Colorado River drought forces a painful reckoning for States. New
York Times.
Zetland, D. (2008, April 24). Conflict and cooperation within an organization: A case study of
the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Social Science Research, DOI: 10.2139/ssm.1129046.

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