Celeste Cantu Stampfl
Former State Water Board Executive Director and ultility General Manager, Vice Chair of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, President of the PPIC Water Policy Center Advisory Council, the Water Education and Water Foundations.
Del Mar’s water is drawn from diverse sources; most is imported from the Sierra Nevada and Colorado River. Understanding the climate, weather and where our water comes from is key to making smart decisions regarding our personal water use.
The Sierra Nevada snowpack feeds the water system across the state supplying 30 percent of California’s water needs. It is 153% of average today, thanks to recent atmospheric river storms. For the first time since 2011, the State is not experiencing drought. However, one wet year cannot make up for the last eight very dry years. Reservoirs are filled to above average, but we have a huge deficiency in groundwater aquifers over drafted during the dry years. Unlike reservoirs which can fill in a wet year, groundwater aquifers can take decades to replenish. The Colorado River is already over-allocated. Climate change is expected to exacerbate the imbalance by further decreasing river flows as temperatures warm. Water managers from the seven Colorado River Basin states have a long fruitful legacy of collaboration. Under a 2007 agreement, if Lake Mead’s level drops to 1,075 feet, about 5 feet below the current level, an official shortage would be declared. That would trigger cuts. Further declines in the lake level bring increasingly severe consequences including water cuts and the loss of the ability to generate hydro electricity. A short term solution, the Drought Contingency Plan, if approved, would help avoid significant challenges. The states would voluntarily take less than their allotted share to keep Lake Mead above the trigger point. The plan would provide stability while longer-term solutions to the existing Colorado River imbalance were developed.
While California has enjoyed a wet winter with a high percentage of snowpack, water is still a major worry. Precipitation patterns are hard to predict. We do know with warmer temperatures more water is needed in the environment and more water evaporates. And climate scientists do predict the trend is to become dryer over time.
As our times are changing, it’s not only the water used directly for drinking, bathing, and washing to watch. Turf is the biggest guzzler; more water is used on our yards than any other residential use. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California voted to double the rebate offered for replacing turf, increasing it to $2 a square foot of grass removed. Substituting low water plants, succulents, poppies and other California natives are beautiful options that use only a fraction of the amount of water needed to keep grass green. Also understand the freshwater you use indirectly in the production and distribution of services and goods. Examples: about 500 gallons are needed to produce a breakfast of two eggs, coffee, OJ, and a glass of milk; 500 gallons for a cotton T-shirt; over 39,000 gallons for your car. Precipitation patterns are changing and so must we.