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Looking to the Future: Pros and Cons of Proposed Solutions - May 8, Palo Alto

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The Bay Area’s current water woes are likely to be exacerbated in the near future for the following reasons:

  1. Climate change: Changes in air temperature, sea level rise, and yearly amounts of rain could alter runoff patterns and lead to smaller amounts of stored water, necessary in the late summer months.
  2. Population increase: Any increase in the numbers of people living here will tax a water delivery system that is already starting to falter.

To try to meet the demand for water, California’s Department of Water Resources updates its Water Plan every five years. The plan has the following features:

  1. It provides a framework for water managers, legislators, and the public to consider options about California’s water future.
  2. It presents basic data and information quantifying the gap between water supply and its agricultural, urban, and environmental uses.
  3. It evaluates existing and proposed management and augmentation projects meant to address changes in the State’s water needs.
  4. It includes reports on water quality and environmental impacts for California’s 10 hydrologic regions.

In implementing the Plan, water resource managers work with communities on issues regarding infrastructure and water supply. Strategies include:

  • Increasing surface storage through dam building.
  • Desalination of sea water.
  • Attempting to match water quality with usage, so that the cost to produce high quality drinking water is only incurred when it is needed.
  • Prevention of water pollution, including urban runoff management, to decrease the amount of treatment needed.

Each strategy has economic and environmental issues. Some systems, like desalination plants, use a lot of energy and may have environmental impacts. Other systems, like dams, may have benefits, like producing hydroelectric power, but contain drawbacks such as an increase in evaporation rates due to surface exposure. Future decisions must weigh the costs and benefits to determine what is sustainable in the changing climate.


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