Metropolitan Water District Officials Give Water Outlook for Southland

Southern Californians' drinking water comes from local supplies, the Colorado River, and Northern California. It's been drier than usual in all those places this year. KPCC's Brian Watt reports that regional water officials are worried.

Brian Watt: The Metropolitan Water District provides drinking water to almost 18 million people in six Southland counties. General Manager Jeff Kightlinger says the district's saved about a year's worth of water for use between rainy days.

Jeff Kightlinger: Right now, our system's very full. It's not like we're gonna be short tomorrow. But a year from now, two years from now, if we don't get some sort of fix in place, you start to run into trouble.

Watt: Farmers will notice one part of that fix in a couple of months: Come January, the water district's cutting the agricultural water supply by about one third. The district is also developing a water rationing plan for all users, in case that becomes necessary. It's also planning for what it calls "extraordinary conservation," Kightlinger says – with incentives for saving water and penalties for using too much.

Kightlinger: Because if we're going to be effectively short of our imported water 70 percent of the time, we're gonna have to make that up significantly through conservation and changing our lifestyle here in Southern California.

Watt: Drought isn't the only reason for the imported water shortage he's projecting. A recent court ruling restricted pumping from water sources up north to protect the endangered Delta smelt. As a result, the Metropolitan Water District estimates it could lose as much as 30 percent of the water it gets from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Kightlinger says it's up to the district and the state to figure out what to do.

Kightlinger: We shouldn't be competing "people versus fish." We need to find a way to make the ecosystem better and to make our water supply more reliable.

Watt: Kightlinger says the water district supports two efforts at the state level: California Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata's push to get a bond measure on the ballot for next February; it would generate funds for regional water projects. And Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's $9 billion proposal to upgrade the delta's infrastructure and bolster conservation efforts across California.