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CLWA manager: Delta will be our Katrina

Agency chief issues warning about state’s lack of a healthy water supply

Posted: October 18, 2009 10:40 p.m.
Updated: October 19, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 

As California lawmakers haggle over how to fix the state water crisis, one local water official issued a stern warning about the state's fragile water supply.

"The Delta is our (Hurricane) Katrina in waiting because of the seismic activity," said Dan Masnada, Castaic Lake Water Agency general manager.

Masnada's warning came as lawmakers were called into the fourth special session of the year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Legislators who would normally spend September through December away from the state capitol were summoned back, in part, to come up with a solution to California's ailing water infrastructure.

California's water problems range from the dire need to fortify the levy system in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to drawing too much water from the Delta, which has prompted lawsuits from environmental groups, Masnada said.

A failure of the Delta levy system would allow salt-laced water from the western portion of the Delta to contaminate fresh water in the eastern Delta, from which much of Southern California's water is taken.

"The state would have to shut down the Delta for two to three years before the salt levels (would be) low enough for us to use the water again," Masnada said.

The Santa Clarita Valley gets about 50 percent of its water from the Delta.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there is a two in three chance that an earthquake measuring 6.5 or greater on the Richter scale will strike an area near the Delta. That magnitude of a quake would topple many of the levies and set off Masnada's nightmare scenario.

"It's not a matter of if, but when," he said.

Republicans and Democrats are pushing different pieces of legislation to fix the state's water problems.

The Democrats are trying to pass a $9.4 billion bond that is intended to improve California's aging water infrastructure and address environmental problems in the Delta.

A companion bill calls for statewide conservation and groundwater monitoring, higher penalties for those who take water illegally and a new government body to oversee the Delta.

Lawmakers are split over how to pay for it, how much cities should be required to conserve and whether private land owners ought to let the state survey their wells to determine the levels of available groundwater.

Republican legislators backed by Schwarzenegger have pushed for an increased water supply - primarily by building two new dams - while Democrats prefer to save water by increasing conservation measures.

The state's severe fiscal crisis hangs over the negotiations, complicating any decision about spending billions of dollars on public works projects.

Whatever state lawmakers decide to pass, Southern California needs a reliable supply of water, said Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita.

"Any water bond must deliver water to my district and fix the levies," Smyth said. "Everyone is trying to put together a deal to satisfy all sides, but what we need is a deal that satisfies the voters."

While Sacramento was overflowing with politicians scrambling to come up with solutions on the state's water crisis, rain pelted the Santa Clarita Valley on Wednesday.

The welcomed storm showcased one of the major problems California faces in delivering a sustainable supply of water to it residents.

"We need more above-ground storage and we need to catch more of the water that falls on the state," Smyth said, "especially during a year like this when we expect an El Niño."

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