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Commentary: O.C. is positioned to withstand drought

January 28, 2014|By Shawn Dewane

Gov. Jerry Brown recently declared a drought state of emergency. His proclamation gives state water officials more flexibility to manage the supply throughout California under drought conditions.

This announcement should not come as a surprise to Southern Californians, being that we live in a semi-desert region. The average rainfall in the region is 13 inches. However, rainfall in 2013 was a mere 3.6 inches, making it the driest year on record.

The declaration has caused a bit of panic and rightfully so. Cities, businesses and residents rely on water for economic growth and sustainability and to preserve public health.

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Orange County's gross domestic product is $188.9 billion, and its taxable sales are $51.7 billion, making it the 39th largest economy in the world.

So do we have enough water supplies to get us through this drought and support our vital economy? Will there be mandatory restrictions? Will our water rates go up?

I am pleased to say Orange County will weather these dry conditions better than other California regions, thanks to many of you who have supported investments in local water infrastructure projects and have made personal commitments to implement water-use efficiency measures in your homes and businesses.

Thank you for having the foresight to make these investments and change water-use habits. Despite increases in our local population, total water demands for our region have remained relatively stable, which shows we are becoming more efficient in our water use.

You are about to see some of the benefits of these past actions, but we are still not completely out of the woods.

So how good of a position are we in and how long can we hold on? As I have mentioned before, north and central Orange County are in a unique position, having a local groundwater basin. Groundwater levels are falling quickly but are still within their normal, historic operating range.

In California, we are expected to experience droughts three out of every 10 years. Knowing this probability, the Orange County Water District saves reserve funds to prepare for and respond to drought conditions.

The district spent $44 million, from accumulated reserves, in fiscal 2011-12, purchasing 92,000 acre-feet — one acre-foot of water is enough to serve two families for a year — of imported water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

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