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Northern Mind-Set

August 21, 1988

As Southern California's major water provider and the source of most of San Diego's supply, the Metropolitan Water District heartily concurs with Pat Gerber's concerns about water waste ("Southland's Waste of Water Jars Newcomer," July 31).

Indeed, California is in its second consecutive dry year, and consumers should be exercising wise water-use practices now to help reduce shortages next year if the drought continues.

While this conservation message is on target, Gerber's analysis is troubling because it is shrouded in the folklore--a rhetorical alchemy, of sorts--that Northern Californians fondly resort to whenever they talk about water. In the north:

* It's chic to view Southern Californians as water wastrels and northerners (either genetics or a special learned behavior must be at work here) as more frugal with water. In reality, consumption patterns in comparable areas of the two regions are the same.

* It's fashionable to scorn the Southland's population increases (most new residents are not from out of state but are born here), even though cities ringing much of San Francisco Bay are experiencing similar growth patterns.

* It's in vogue to view Southern California's aqueducts as sieves draining the environment, even though San Francisco Bay communities rely on aqueducts and water projects as much as we do.

* It's stylish to object to State Water Project deliveries to Southern California, particularly in drought years. In reality, our exports from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta do not contribute to shortages in San Francisco and other northern communities because the water we use from the region is drawn far downstream from their supply points.

During inevitable drought years, this Northern California mind-set is particularly vexing because it obscures a major difference in north-south attitudes about water. Specifically, the difference lies in how the two regions have prepared themselves for shortages.

In the north, San Francisco and the greater Oakland area have chosen to rely on singular sources of supply tucked high in the Sierra Nevada. When it doesn't snow, these limited resources dry up, and consumers are quickly hit with disincentive pricing and rationing to meet the crisis.

Southern California, on the other hand, has charted a more secure and dependable course by developing--at a cost of billions of dollars--multiple water sources that provide vital water supplies, three aqueduct systems and California's most effective water reclamation and reuse projects.

In short, Southern California, with its $250-billion economy and more than 7 million jobs, is better prepared for drought, although we, too, are vulnerable in an extensive dry period.

Certainly, all Californians need to use water wisely--not only this drought year but every year. However, San Diegans and all Californians must remain mindful that the best way to protect against drought is to plan for it and develop necessary facilities that will provide water when the dry years come.

CARL BORONKAY

General Manager

Metropolitan Water District

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