By Jim E. Winburn, www.civicbee.com
(Victor Valley)– Though economists claim the High Desert region is slowly heading toward growth once again, that growth requires an ever-increasing water supply for the needs of development.
Jordan Levine, director of Economic Research at Beacon Economics, spoke at the 2013 High Desert Water Summit on Friday, Nov. 8 – held at the Hilton Garden Inn in Victorville – assuring participants of the conference that the High Desert will be a growth region once again.
“It will be slow out of the gate, but as we get deeper into next year, things will really begin to accelerate,” Levine said, forecasting the region’s ongoing growth to 2014 and beyond. “”Real estate is hot, and that’s true in terms of prices and sales. New construction permits are above inventory, interest rates – although they’ve risen about 5 percent or so by now – are still very, very low by reportable standards.”
However, for the High Desert to grow, it must have a water supply that can keep up with its expansion – which calls into concern just how precariously dependent Southern California’s water supply is upon the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan, a statewide water project.
Stephen Arakawa, manager of the Bay-Delta Initiatives Program at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, stressed the importance of this Northern California water project upon the local water agencies serving their High Desert communities.
“It’s critically important to Southern California because imported water will continue to be important to the ongoing economic health of our region,” Arakawa said. “Southern California is a leader in (water) recycling. … but for all of that to work, the backbone state water system that we all rely on, all the 29 contractors that are part of the state water project, it’s still critically important to solve this issue that’s been upon us for 50 or 60 years.”
Approved in 1960, the state water project was intended to resolve how to move water through the Delta; however, Arakawa said California continues to face that same problem, never having completed a system “to adequately deliver water across the Delta – and so those challenges are coming to haunt us.”
Arakawa explained how the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan, http://baydeltaconservationplan.com, introduced in 2006 as a habitat conservation plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, is intended to enforce water supply reliability throughout the state, while restoring the Delta’s local ecosystem with a new conveyance facility.
“The feature of how water moves through the Delta would be a tunnel system and a diversion point in the north end so that you’re not reversing those flows as much,” he said, noting that moving the point of water diversion to the north along the Sacramento River would benefit fish that depend on the Delta for their survival. “Half of the water would move through the tunnel system; half of the water would move through the Delta channel, so there would still be sufficient fresh water in the Delta channels to continue to provide … a more reliable system for the rest of California.”
Arakawa pointed out that the Bay-Delta is the very hub of California’s water: providing 3 percent of the Bay Area’s water, 23-90 percent of the Central Valley’s water, and 30 percent of Southern California’s water.
“Twenty-five million people rely on this system,” he said. “It’s not just a fraction of California; it’s the big part of California’s $2 trillion economy.”
Arakawa said work is ongoing with the Delta because of the many changes it has sustained over the past 150 years.
“There has been agricultural development, there’s been flood control and channelization of the Delta, all of the things (associated) with the settlement of people – and all of those kind of impacts add up,” he said.
A preliminary cost analysis of the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan shows a total cost of $24.5 billion, according to Arakawa. The project schedule shows the draft EIR is expected in December 2013, habitat restoration to take place 2010-2050, and tunnel construction to take place 2016-2026.
“So the reliability is important because we have been losing water – we’ve lost water the last 20 years … and certainly the Bay Delta Conservation Plan would be intended to at least protect that supply but also would provide for the ability to maybe increase that, to restore some of that water – maybe 10 percent above what we’ve been getting over the last 20 years,” Arakawa said.
More information about the BDCP and other water projects can be found on the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s website at http://www.mwdh2o.com.