Southern California cities and suburbs will lose a major portion of the water supply they have relied on for the past two decades as an immediate consequence of a breakdown in New Year's Eve negotiations over a deal to shift water from farms to urban areas.
As Tony Perry reports in the Los Angeles Times, a top Bush administration official said Tuesday night that water distribution from the Colorado River will be reduced after four water agencies failed to meet a Dec. 31 deadline to agree on a plan for Imperial Valley farmers to sell water to San Diego County.
Assistant Interior Secretary Bennett Raley said the administration has no choice but to reduce water to the mammoth Imperial Irrigation District by seven percent and to suspend shipments of so-called surplus water from the Colorado River to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves Los Angeles and five surrounding counties.
The cutback will deprive the MWD of about 50 percent of its Colorado River allocation, or about 25 percent of its total supply from all sources. MWD provides water to local agencies, many of which also have their own local supplies.
A top state water official told Perry that the decision by the federal government to cut in half coastal Southern California's water allocation from the Colorado River is a "setback but not a crisis."
Jeanine Jones, drought preparedness manager for the Department of Water Resources, said she agrees with officials of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California that there is enough water in storage to offset the reduction for at least two years.
Beyond that, she said, the district will need to "decide what the game plan is and quickly accelerate it," even if the price tag is high.
At the MWD, a regional agency that provides water to 26 cities and water agencies serving 17 million people in six counties, officials say they have a plan to deal with a drought like the one that struck California in the late 1980s.