The southwest: ‘a shortage of cheap water’

Q. Are we facing a water shortage in California?

There’s definitely a shortage of cheap water. And some of these physical changes, like the cutback on the Colorado River, for example, have influenced the overall water supply.

And, if the climate experts are correct, we’re likely to have less available storage over time in the snow pack because of global warming. So those are real changes, physical changes in the system.

Now we’ve had a very substantial run-up in population in the last 20 years and very little increase in urban water use, so one of the big questions is whether that trend will continue.

Q: Why didn’t the consumption go up more?

One of the main ones is that industrial use of water is way down, largely because of water pollution control regulations. Companies have found it more economical to recycle their own water and to treat it before they dump it in water bodies or put it in a public treatment plant. The other reason is the significant investment in water-saving appliances, low-flush toilets and showerheads — particularly in Southern California.

Q: Are new technologies such as desalinization and water reclamation going to be part of the solution?

A: The technology’s completely available for desalinization, it’s just very expensive, even for reclamation. For urban water uses in certain settings, it’s potentially a good idea. But agriculture can’t even pay for conventional water projects, much less these high-tech new supplies. So for the great bulk of California’s water supply it’s not a solution.

Q: How does the overall water usage break down?

A: Statewide, roughly 70 percent is still used in irrigation for agriculture, maybe a little more than that, and 25 percent for all urban uses, commercial, industrial and residential.