December 3rd, 2009 9:46 AM by Lehel S.
Rep. Grace Napolitano said Wednesday she wants to hold an unprecedented congressional hearing on the state's water crisis next month in Los Angeles.
It would be the first federal hearing on the state's water situation ever held in Southern California, said Napolitano, D-Santa Fe Springs, who chairs the House Natural Resources subcommittee on Water and Power.
A date for the hearing has not been set.
"We are fact finding what we need to do and what everyone else is doing. State, where do you ante up? County, where do you ante up? Water district, water master, what can you do? What can we do together to ensure adequate supply for the growth of Southern California," Napolitano said.
The congresswoman's call for the hearing comes the day after state officials announced a record low amount of water from the rain and snow in the northern part of the state will be available to homes and farms to the south.
"We have no new water supply. We need to realize the crisis is here," Napolitano said.
The state will be able to deliver a mere 5 percent of requested water, according to an initial allocation from the Department of Water Resources - the lowest allocation ever. However, that initial allocation is expected to increase based on the winter's rain and snowfall. Still, officials said they don't expect to get much more than 40 percent, leaving 60 percent of water requests unmet.
While much of Southern California relies
But that doesn't mean it is isolated from the water crisis. The region counts on imported water to replenish groundwater that is pumped from the aquifer. And with the state unable to provide any replenishment water in recent years, the water in the aquifer is at its lowest level ever.
Nor has it been replenished naturally by rain and snow from the San Gabriel Mountains.
Whether this winter will provide relief is anyone's guess, according to Carol Williams, executive director of the Main San Gabriel Basin Watermaster, which manages groundwater resources in the region.
Though some are predicting rain from El Ni o, Williams isn't certain.
"I've looked at some of the information presented by the county, and it's all totally inconclusive," she said. "All we can do is cross our fingers and do a little rain dance."
Even if the state's 3-year drought comes to an end this winter, imported water supplies are likely to be limited for years to come, according to Bob Muir, spokesman for the Metropolitan Water District, which allocates imported water throughout the Southland.
That is because in addition to drought, supplies have been severely limited by court-ordered restrictions cutting back the amount of water that can be pumped through the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta in order to protected several endangered fish species, including the tiny Delta smelt.
"We are in a new era of limits, particularly with the Delta," Muir said.
The Delta estuary sits at the center of the state's network of pumps and canals that distribute water across the state.
Last month lawmakers passed comprehensive legislation aimed at remedying the Delta and the state's water supply. The package includes an $11.1 billion water bond for infrastructure projects and conservation programs that requires voter approval.
Whether the state's 5 percent allocation will send a message to voters won't be known until next November's election.
"Five percent sends a very strong message that the state is in a water crisis. I think (the allocation) is a combination of the conditions during the past year, and the need to let us know, to let everyone know, we are in this crisis, with an exclamation point," said Art Aguilar, general manager of the Central Basin Municipal Water District, which distributes imported water to Montebello, Whittier, Pico Rivera, Santa Fe Springs and other cities.
While water managers across the region took the allocation seriously, some questioned its severity.
"Whose attention are they trying to get at 5 percent?" asked Bob Kuhn, president of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District's board of directors.
Water suppliers have gotten some relief from the Colorado River this year. That supply also had been plagued by drought, but this year MWD was able to provide the most Colorado River water it has since 2003, Muir said.
Residents can expect more calls for conservation in the coming year, and water managers across the region said they are developing projects to recycle sewage water, improve the capture of stormwater runoff, and purchase agricultural water rights, none of which come cheap.
"Conservation is going to be even more paramount, it really is going to become the issue," Kuhn said.
And though ocean desalination projects are miles away from the San Gabriel Valley, water managers are exploring investments in such projects in exchange for access to the imported water they replace.
"It's following a trend of less reliability of imported water," said Steve Johnson, interim general manager of the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, which distributes imported water to various cities in the San Gabriel Valley. "It just reinforces the need to step outside the traditional supply to secure more reliable water supplies."