A Newsletter about California Water, Land, and People


Water Supply Reliability

Talk of water supply reliability confirms California's mercurial climate: Drought in 1987-1992 produced only about half the historical average amount of Central Valley runoff. Floods in January 1997, just four years later, produced record runoff and $2 billion in damage (mostly to agriculture), the most extensive flood in California's history.

How to achieve "water supply reliability" really depends on who defines it.

Shasta Lake behind Shasta Dam, October 1991,
at the peak of the last long drought in California.
Photo courtesy of California Department of Water Resources.

CalFED, a joint state-federal water supply program, understands our faith in reliable water supplies, and is finalizing a $6 billion plan this summer to keep the faith. One of the program's goals is to increase California's "water supply reliability" for meeting challenges that loom in the years ahead: restoring collapsing ecosystems and serving fresh water to a rapidly growing and largely urban population.

Through CalFED, California's water industry hopes that someday, even in drought years, the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project can more predictably continue delivering water. Its planners reason, if we could just capture even some of the flood waters in new reservoirs and groundwater aquifers, California might endure the future droughts that inevitably return.

Increasing water supply reliability would then mean reducing "the mismatch between Bay-Delta water supplies and projected beneficial uses dependent on the Bay-Delta system." CalFED proposes tinkering with all facets of California's water system: improving water quality of and access to existing or new supplies (through water market trading, storage, and canals), reducing conflicts between beneficial uses (via ecosystem restoration), and shoring up Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta levees.

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