By RUBEN GUERRA

I wrote an opinion article for the Business Journal last July commending the actions of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who was touring California to discuss a comprehensive solution to California's water crisis. I stood with the governor and praised him for addressing water as an issue that has a significant impact on the people who live in California and specifically the large and small Los Angeles businesses that make up our vibrant economy.

Since then, Gov. Schwarzenegger's forward-thinking desire for a solution has landed in the hands of California state legislators. Unfortunately, from there the process stalled out and frayed into a hodgepodge of partisan plans and ballot initiatives. In early January, Senate and Assembly leaders gave up their joint call for a water conservation and storage bond issue for the November ballot and virtually ended all hopes of an agreed-upon legislative solution. Now the California electorate will have a range of plans and ballot initiatives put before them months from now.

In the meantime, as legislators cut off talks, our water crisis has grown more imminent. Last year, our earnest mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, urged Los Angeles residents to reduce water usage by 10 percent. The effort raised awareness of our impending water crisis and put the issue in the forefront. However, now it appears voluntary measures will fall short and it is likely this water usage reduction will become mandatory. The Metropolitan Water District will release a contingency plan this month to cut water deliveries to member water districts by as soon as May as well as impose a rate hike of 10 to 20 percent.

Already, we are feeling the economic impact. Individual cities are introducing building restrictions in San Diego County because water assessments cannot match the resources needed for these developments. On Jan. 23, water district officials in Riverside County, having already postponed a decision on whether they can supply water to seven developments, said they cannot yet guarantee water to a proposed warehouse in Moreno Valley and a $300 million hotel and retail complex in Murrieta. It is likely this trend will spread into other Southern California areas in the coming months.

Reasons behind crisis

There are several reasons this is shaping up to be a major crisis:

First, we will have lower water deliveries to the area because Mother Nature refuses to cooperate. We are experiencing an eight-year drought in the Colorado River Basin, record-low snowpack in the Sierra Nevada (even with the early-January snow dump) and less precipitation across the Southland.

Second, a federal court made a decision in August protecting the endangered Delta smelt by limiting water deliveries from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta, the source of water for 25 million people. This is expected to reduce water by an estimated 22 percent to 30 percent. (In December, the Department of Water Resources told water agencies in December to expect an overall initial supply forecast of just 25 percent for 2008).

Third, demand continues growing. California's population is projected to reach almost 60 million by 2050, adding over 25 million since the 2000 census. California's water system was built for 18 million people.

Demands for water are expected to continue exceeding supplies from developed sources every year for at least the next 25 years. California's average annual water demands will increase between 1.7 and 6 million acre-feet by 2030 (as much as 14 percent per year). At the same time, California will need an additional 1 million to 2 million acre feet of water simply to replace groundwater overdrafts.

Today, we are further from a water solution than the day I stood with Gov. Schwarzenegger last July to support this effort. It appears it will be up to the California electorate to vote on a ballot initiative that will provide for a comprehensive water solution.

I believe California's legislators want a resolution that moves us forward and prepares for the long term. California residents and businesses deserve a single, agreed-upon plan by their elected state officials. I am hoping for continued talks and a solution that includes ground and surface storage capabilities, San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta conveyance and sustainability, conservation and water resources stewardship.

The best course of action will protect our state's economy and livelihood of residents for the long-term. However, there will be no progress without unified action from
California's legislators in the short-term.

Ruben Guerra is chairman of the Latin Business Association and is the Southern California chairman of the California Latino Water Coalition.

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