U.S. Water News Online
LOS ANGELES -- The enormous underground aquifer that
provides water to more than 2 million Orange County residents has
been overdrawn by more than 133 billion gallons -- the biggest drop
in a decade and the latest sign of a severe and worsening drought.
Orange County Water District experts say the overdraft, which
comes to 411,000 acre-feet, is not enough to bring serious
consequences just yet. The county has seen lower levels, including a
record overdraft of 700,000 acre-feet in 1956.
Still, the overdraft will likely push up water rates, either in
the next few months or next year. The Orange County Water District,
which supplies water to 2.2 million of the county's 2.9 million
residents, has begun looking for ways to make up the deficit.
"Quite frankly, that makes us uncomfortable," said Virginia
Grebbien, water district general manager. "That's not where we want
to be." The overdraft means water is being removed from the aquifer
faster than it is being replenished. Normally during dry years, the
district does not like to exceed a deficit of 200,000 acre-feet.
The overdraft has not caused any problems yet, and no rationing or
extreme conservation measures are being considered. The barriers
against seawater intrusion are not affected. "It's not a crisis,"
The Metropolitan Water District, which provides more than half the
water consumed in Southern California, will pump 90,000 to 100,000
acre-feet of water into Orange County's aquifer by year's end to help
with the problem, MWD officials said.
The regional aquifer, deep deposits of water in the soil and rocks
beneath northern and central Orange County, provides about half the
county's drinking water; the rest is imported from Northern
California and the Colorado River.
The overdraft would be enough to supply 800,000 homes for a year.
A prolonged dry spell in the region is to blame. The county has
not seen a storm that dropped a full inch of rain in 587 days.
Inland areas normally help recharge the county's aquifer by
sending water down the Santa Ana River, but they, too, are dry.
Drought conditions prevail in more than half the nation. The
causes, however, are believed to vary from region to region.
The aquifer overdraft has led to a split opinion on the Orange
County Water District board about when to take action.
Water producers -- the cities, water districts and other agencies
that pump water from the ground -- are given an allotment of water
they are allowed to draw from the aquifer. They import the rest, at
The present allotment is 75 percent -- that is, each agency can
draw 75 percent of the water it needs to supply its customers from
The Orange County Water District will discuss in board meetings in
October whether to cut that allotment in order to conserve more of
Grebbien says she advocates doing so in April. Normally, the
allotments are adjusted each April, and keeping to that schedule will
help the water producers avoid budgetary chaos -- as well as a sudden
spike in water rates.
But some board members, she said, want to cut the allotment
Patrick Scanlon of the Southern California Water Co., who also is
head of a group that represents northern and central county's 15 to
20 producers, said the producers want the board to wait until April.
"Right now all of us from the retail level are aware of the
situation," Scanlon said. "We think it's a serious situation.
However, we want to be sure everyone understands that we don't want
Scanlon said he could not yet estimate how much water rates might
increase if the producers' groundwater allotment is cut. They could
be reduced to drawing only 57 percent of their water from the
aquifer, or to some higher level that is less than 75 percent. But
that decision has not yet been made by the Orange County Water
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