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WATER IS PRECIOUS : . . . While Officials Continue to Ignore Threat of Shortages, Droughts

December 06, 1987|H.T. NOWICKI and H.T. Nowicki is a member of the San Diego County Technical Committee on Water Supply and Conservation.

Anyone monitoring the proceedings of the San Diego County Water Authority or the Metropolitan Water District must wonder if these agencies realize that water is a limited resource.

For example, the Water Authority has legal entitlement to only 11% of MWD's 2,011,500 acre-feet of the state Water Project, yet it uses more than 30%. And a drive north along Interstate 15 is an example of land-planning and zoning with little regard for water availability.

The logic seems to be that water supplies are unlimited and can be increased merely at the beckoning of the water agencies.

Recent studies project San Diego's population to increase from 1,861,846 in 1980 to 2,647,200 in 2000. Most of this growth has been concentrated in the temperate coastal zone. Unfortunately, this is also the area with the most ideal year-round growing climate.

This has forced agriculture inland into areas of greater temperature extremes where the terrain and soil are marginal. This less fertile soil requires more intensive irrigation and fertilization. These considerations, combined with the warmer inland temperatures, place an additional demand for water and contribute to ground water contamination. A recent University of California study estimated that a minimum of 25 acre-feet of water is required annually to raise the food that a family consumes. (An acre-foot is 325,850 gallons of water.) With the continued influx of people and with tourism replacing agriculture as the No. 1 industry in California, there is an increasing need for a more rational land-planning and zoning approach. This approach must accommodate residential as well as agricultural usage. The state already has a law that water must be put to the most reasonable and beneficial use. With more of the county's fertile land being converted into housing, is it not time that our officials help forestall the impending water crises and adopt a similar policy for land use?

It has been only through the availability of imported water that we have been able to attain the quality of life we enjoy. But only through intelligent planning, zoning and use of the available resources will we be able to sustain it.

With the highly desirable beachfront property already developed, builders are moving inland and incorporating aquatic amenities into their new developments.

In Mira Costa, a condominium project includes two artificial ponds. Not to be outdone, Carmel del Mar and "The Lakes" in North City West each include three 24-inch-deep ponds. The residents of Escondido's "Chateau Heritage" enjoy two lakes an acre in area and five feet deep. The water from these two lakes alone would meet the needs of five or six families for a year, even though the water recirculates. However, these developments are dwarfed by the Eastlake development in Chula Vista. Here a 21-acre lake replete with a sandy beach, marina, other recreational amenities and a 6,000-square-foot island embellish the development.

The most glaring paradox in the land and zoning process in a region constantly threatened by water shortages, is the proliferation of golf courses.

California boasts more than 756 golf courses, more than any other state. According to the National Golf Foundation, the distribution of courses across the state varies inversely with the availability of water. The upper two-thirds of California, where two-thirds of the water occurs, accounts for some 332 of the state's golf courses. The southern third of the state sports more than 424. In San Diego County alone, there are at least 78. This amounts to one golf course per 25,640 residents. With the increasing popularity of golf, there is pressure to build more courses.

This becomes significant when one realizes that each watering of a golf course uses 2 million gallons of water.

How reasonable and efficient is such use considering the number of people that play golf and the fact that the benefits are enjoyed by such a small elite minority?

Water is wasted by government agencies too. A glaring example is the San Diego Unified Port District. Here in the bureaucracy of a city government is a "holier than thou" agency, theoretically an integral part of the city but a kingdom unto itself that uses water as if it were going out of style.

An observation of water usage at its more visible facilities would shame make an average San Diegan. ashamed. To a newly arriving traveler deplaning at Lindbergh Field, A drive down Harbor Drive would dispel any notion that this is an area of water shortage. The sprinklers, having long saturated the center dividers and adjoining landscape, not only flood the roadway but flush the sewers as well. Such scheduled mismanaged irrigation continues even in a torrential downpour.

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