The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

July 26, 2010
Severe local water shortages on the way due to global warming

Sacramento County is one of four in California and just 29 nationwide that face likely, extreme water shortages by 2050 -- even if global warming were to mysteriously disappear -- according to a recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group.

The report found that California and 13 other states face severe shortages under expected global-warming scenarios. Nationwide, more than 1,100 counties -- one in three -- were projected to face water shortages due to global warming.

The research was conducted for the environmental group by Tetra Tech Inc., a Pasadena-based research and engineering firm, which factored in increasing demand from population and economic growth.

"Water shortages can strangle economic development and agricultural production," said Dan Lashof, an official with the environmental group. "Cities and states will bear real and significant costs if Congress fails to take the steps necessary to slow down and reverse the warming trend." Given that climate-change legislation remains stalled in a polarized Congress, water conservation would seem a more fruitful response, but hardly an easy one.

Notwithstanding the end of the three-year drought, the State Water Resources Control Board recently recommended that to sustain the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (a pleasant Delta day pictured here) as a healthy ecosystem, water drawn from it should roughly be cut in half. Water providers consider such cuts impractical in the extreme, given the lack of ready alternative sources.MC_ CSP_BRANNAN.04.JPG

Many urban areas, including the City of Sacramento -- among a handful of cities that does not yet fully meter its customers -- have enacted tougher conservation rules in recent years.

The city has had difficulty conserving on its own properties, due to a preponderance of grass and other thirsty landscaping combined with antiquated sprinklers that can be costly to upgrade.

But under a law enacted last year, the state mandated a 20 percent reduction in water consumption for urban areas by 2020. Agricultural water users will have their usage measured by July 2012, and will pay for water based partly on the quantity used.

- Charles Piller

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