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September 14, 2007 05:41PM
http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0912/p02s01-ussc.html?page=1

Water crisis squeezes California's economy

A recent federal ruling to reduce the amount of water that flows through the delta is likely to boost food prices and trim jobs in agriculture.

California farmers, who produce half the nation's fruits and vegetables, say they will idle fields and cut back on planting lettuce, cotton, rice, and more.

Silicon Valley computer-chip makers and other industrial/commercial users say they will rethink manufacturing processes that use water, or dramatically raise the price of products they sell.

Cities from Sacramento to San Diego say drought-era practices of rationed water – low-use toilets and washers, designated water days for lawns and cars – are back, including stiff fines for those who don't follow the rules.

After 35 years of hemming and hawing over how to fix the largest estuary in the Western Hemisphere – the sprawl of canals, levees, and flood plains that join the Golden State's two river systems – the state has been told by a federal judge that business-as-usual is now illegal.

A new ruling to stop pumping up to 37 percent of the water that flows through the delta to protect endangered fish species has sent shock waves of concern into the three main sectors that have long competed for it: cities, farms, environment.

The estuary provides water to 23 million Californians and about 5 million acres of farmland. Overused and under maintained for years, the delta and its water are at the heart of the state's economic vitality, its wildlife habitat, shipping, transportation, drinking water, and recreation.

"In the water business we are facing the biggest challenges here in over half a century … there is no way any knowledgeable person could contest that," says Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, which represents more than 450 of the state's water agencies that provide water to 95 percent of the state's farms and cities. "The state has had some success in better managing this problem for the last decade, but we have hid ourselves from the biggest issue … and Mother Nature is telling us there is no more hiding.".............

............. Anticipating the reduced water spigot from the delta as of January 2008, water agencies north of it are telling their clients to cut back on water use. They are already spending money in new ad campaigns to remind users to cut back or face the possibility of mandatory laws with fines.

"We are spending millions to get the conservation message out that we need to conserve as if we are in a crunch," says Jeff Kightlinger, of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves agencies and 18 million residents in six counties. He says the new rationing will affect 2 of every 3 Californians.

"Farmers across the state know this will be very tough and not pleasant," says Dave Kranz, spokesman for the California Farm Bureau Federation. "To the extent that you take farmland out of production for whatever reason, it increases another problem, which is providing enough American-grown food to serve the US population as well as demand from other countries."...........
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