While working for Commissioner Robert Johnson of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, I often heard him compare the storage capacities of the Colorado River with California. “The Colorado River’s flow ‘is supposed to be’ 15 million acre-feet,” he would joke. “The good news is, there is 60 million acre-feet of storage in the Colorado River system, so four times the annual flow.” Always a generous man, he would say, “California’s watershed is comparable to the Colorado River; however, there is only enough storage for less than half the annual runoff.” The commissioner’s point was that storage allowed for great resilience and reliability in water supplies on a river with fluctuating flows, while California is far more vulnerable to drought. Mr. Randy Record, chairman of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, uses the same comparison in his interview. While Chairman Record uses the numbers of 32 million acre-feet for California’s watershed with only 6 million acre-feet in storage, both gentlemen accurately explain the need to improve the reliability of California’s water supply system.
The California WaterFix is a proposed project to improve the reliability of the state and federal water systems by moving the water intakes upstream of the delta on the Sacramento River. California Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin explains the WaterFix project in detail for our readers. As a system of tunnels approximately 35 miles long, the new intakes would bypass the ecologically sensitive delta and connect to existing infrastructure. “The new intakes will give us increased resilience, so we can continue to move water even in the event of a catastrophic failure in the delta,” said Director Cowin. Chairman Record further describes the purpose of the WaterFix project by saying, “What we want to do is restore the reliability of supplies. We are not looking for additional water supply over what our average used to be.” He continues to say, “We need a backbone of reliable, highquality supply from the delta that allows us to recycle and do these other projects that we are going to need to be able to satisfy future demand.”
Reliability is the most important aspect of a water supply. A reliable supply can be multiplied through efficient planning and recycling; however, it is difficult to recycle water that you do not have. Chairman Record summed up his view on California’s water supply situation by saying, “I believe there is adequate water in California for the needs of homeowners, farmers, and the environment, but we need modern infrastructure to make that happen.” The chairman is correct. Water solutions can be engineered, and the California WaterFix project needs to move forward.
Kris Polly is editor-in-chief of Municipal Water Leader and Irrigation Leader magazines. He is also president of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations, marketing, and publishing company he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at Kris.Polly@wateretrategies.com