Southern California is an idyllic place to live with perfect weather, beautiful scenery, rich cultural history, and a growing population of over 22 million people. However, So Cal is also lacking the very thing required to sustain any population: water! This may be hard to believe if you look around and happen to notice the well-manicured golf courses, entire blocks of green lawns, and ocean full of water present in many of our communities. More specifically, Southern California is lacking its own natural sources of non-imported water. If Southern California were to sustain itself without any imported water, the population would have to be less than 500,000 – 2.3% of its current size.
We must ask ourselves: how does Southern California sustain a population of 22 million people with only enough natural water reserves for about 500,000? The answer, as it was thousands of years ago in ancient Rome, is a system of aqueducts which deliver billions of gallons of water each year from hundreds of miles away to Southern California. Without these aqueducts, the luscious Southern California and its vibrant economy we have all come to know would not only be impractical, but impossible. As we continue to experience natural population growth and new development, it is important to analyze the current state of our aqueduct system to ensure that we have the capacity to sustain the So Cal lifestyle that we have all become accustomed to.
There are three major aqueducts to consider: The Los Angeles Aqueduct, initially constructed from 1907-1913; the Colorado River Aqueduct, constructed in the 1930s to deliver water from Lake Havasu at the California / Arizona border; and the California Aqueduct, which began construction in the 1960s to deliver water from the Sierras. With the completion of each aqueduct, the population of Southern California exploded. Today, more than 2/3 of all the water used in Southern California is delivered through these aqueducts.
Each of these aqueducts relies on snowpack in the Sierra and Colorado mountains as a primary source of water. As the snow covering these mountain ranges melts each Spring, it fills the river systems and our aqueducts with precious water. While these aqueducts are vital to Southern Californians everywhere, they were not built without great environmental costs. Many rivers and lakes dried up as we diverted the natural course of water for our needs, which destroyed natural habitats and beautiful areas such as Mono Lake and Owens Valley.
For those of us who enjoy winter sports, it should come as no surprise to learn that snowpack levels in the Sierras have been falling in recent years. We have also experienced ongoing drought conditions throughout the state. These two factors led the California Department of Water Resources to slash the State Water Project allocation to 5% in 2016, 2021, and 2022. In other words, Southern California only received 5% of its requested amount from the California aqueduct in those years. During this crisis, we were able to depend on the reliability of the Colorado River Aqueduct supply to meet our needs.
As we look to the future, even this historically reliable water supply is threatened. A major oversight occurred during the measurement of water levels used to determine the allocations available for the water agencies that would benefit from the aqueduct. Namely, the measurement year saw the highest water levels ever recorded which resulted in a serious overestimation of the amount of water this system could provide. With climate change pushing snowpack and water levels ever lower on the Colorado and our storage capacity quickly being met, we are headed for a water emergency that will take years or decades to recover from.
With each of our major aqueducts’ water sources being threatened, we are entering uncharted territory in the water industry. These challenging times will require sound management and informed decision making from our local elected officials. We have many different government agencies responsible for providing us with our water, but principal among them are Metropolitan Water District and West Basin Municipal Water District. These agencies work closely together to deliver imported water from the California and Colorado River Aqueducts.
West Basin has five board members, each elected from a specific geographic region within its service area. During these troubling times for the water industry, West Basin’s leadership has shown equally troubling judgement on many recent decisions. The Board spent over 65 million dollars of our money evaluating a large-scale desalination project, ultimately deciding not to proceed with the project. That is $65,000,000 wasted on a project that never even got past the evaluation phase. Imagine what this money could have done in more capable and fiscally responsible hands!
As reported in the Daily Breeze the Board hired a General Manager without the usual academic credentials for someone in this position and with known sexual harassment settlements and to a position with an annual salary and benefits package that totals roughly $400,000. Given the immense responsibility, status, and compensation of this position, why would the Board choose to hire this individual when the nationally known recruiting firm they hired didn’t even select him for an interview? This person is, fortunately, no longer employed by the District. However, he created such a toxic work environment that 30% of the most qualified staff left the District during his tenure. Surely, this is not the sound judgement and leadership we need from our elected officials.
My name is Sanjay Gaur and I believe I can do better. Since 1994, I have been passionate about improving the management of water resources for both human use and the environment. I have two Master’s degrees: Applied Resource Economics from UC Santa Cruz and Master of Public Administration from Harvard. I have been a financial and rate consultant for over 100 water agencies around California over the past twenty years.
As a professional rate consultant, I work daily to come up with solutions to challenging problems that are fiscally responsible, socially acceptable, and environmentally conscious. I stand behind all the work I develop — even in uncomfortable situations or public hearings. In these settings, I am often the first one to present a proposed rate increase to a forum of less-than-thrilled rate payers. As a fellow member of the public, I demand accountability from my water leadership. As a small business owner, I understand managing limited resources to maximize results.
I hope you will consider me on November 8th for the West Basin Municipal Water District Board of Directors, Division 4 position. If you would like to learn more about my plan to navigate these uncharted times or to follow my journey, please visit my website GaurforWaterBoard2022.com and follow me on social media.