ONTARIO - With dwindling water supplies, agencies throughout California are grappling with how to survive under the current drought conditions.

Regional water experts convened Monday to discuss options to be more self-sufficient, such as groundwater, recycling and conservation.

"I don't know if there is one solution to self-sufficiency. There is no silver bullet, but you and your water agencies will have to figure out yourself," Chino Basin Watermaster CEO Ken Manning said to the others in attendance.

An issue of concern to many water agencies was "fixing the Delta" or paying for infrastructure investments needed in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. A judge has halted much of the water pumping there to protect the tiny delta smelt fish.

A $11.1 billion bond has been created to overhaul the state's water system and will be on the ballot in November.

"The whole idea on the bond and selling an $11 billion bond in this environment is not going to be easy," Manning said.

If passed by voters, the Safe, Clean and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2010 would pay for new dams, groundwater cleanup, conservation and habitat restoration. A significant component of the bond is dedicating $2.25 billion in funding to Delta sustainability.

The court order has already affected many water agencies, which have had their rates increased by their major supplier, said Chris Frahm, a San Diego-based attorney who lobbies for the California Groundwater Coalition, which represents groundwater managers from agencies across the state.


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In some cases, farmers could no longer afford to water their crops and orchards, Frahm said. This has resulted in lost jobs, she said.

The bond has received support from several state water agencies but has been opposed by other groups, including the Planning and Conservation League, Frahm said.

The league's opposition stems from potential impacts to the environment, the state's economic crisis as well as the billions of dollars in past bonds that have not been spent, she said.

"If we don't do something to fix the Delta now, it will potentially have severe impacts to the water supply," Frahm said.

For the first time, Frahm said, the bond will direct a substantial amount of the money to groundwater infrastructure.

About 20 years ago, the belief was to import water and build pipes bigger and bigger as a means to meet population growth, she said. But since then, the focus has been on building local resources rather than importing from the Delta.

The bond would help groundwater agencies improve facilities, Frahm said.

The question is who is going to be willing to pay for the Delta fix, Manning said.

Gathering voter support will mean educating the public on the necessity of the bond and what it means to the water resources in the state, said Andrew Stone, executive director of New Hampshire-based American Ground Water Trust.

But water matters are often complex, and in order for customers to understand, water agencies simplify the issues, he said. By doing that, customers don't fully understand the system and what it takes to import or clean water, he said.

"The biggest challenge we have is that we don't pay enough for water," Stone said.

Stone said they need to understand that if water rates are raised by a few percent, many of the water problems could be solved.

If the Delta is the ultimate solution, "we're looking at 10 to 15 years before we have that fixed," said Rick Iger, a principal engineer with GEI Consultants' Bookman-Edmonston division.

The conference was also an opportunity to educate water agencies on the limitations they face as public agencies to supporting the bond, Frahm said. Water agencies are not allowed to campaign or spend any public resources on the bond, Frahm said.

But as a water agency, they do have an obligation to educate the public and customers about what the measure entails, she said.

The bond, because of its environmental impacts and the current economy, will be hotly contested, Frahm said.

If it does not pass, Frahm said she believes the bond will not go away. 

The water conference was organized by the Association of Ground Water Agencies and the American Ground Water Trust.