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Water supply threats worsen in San Diego County

North County Times – 4/12/08. By Bradley J. Fikes, staff writer

San Diego County has long had to worry about drought. It imports nearly all of its water from sources hundreds of miles away. Now it's struggling with what has been called a "man-made drought," a cut of up to 30 percent from Northern California rivers.

Local water agencies have created numerous programs to encourage saving water. For example, the region's water wholesaler, the San Diego County Water Authority, is promoting a "20 Gallon Challenge" to cut household water use by 20 gallons a day. And the authority recently adopted a model drought conservation plan for its member agencies, who directly provide water to customers.

However, other water-deprived areas outside of California have done even more to conserve water. One of the most notable examples is the Las Vegas area, renowned for its creative management of a water supply that's far more limited than San Diego County's.

Las Vegas has managed to produce an economic boom despite drought, and even decreased its water use in the bargain. This has been done mostly through conservation. By contrast, most of San Diego County's efforts have focused on getting more water, particularly its landmark water transfer deal with the Imperial Irrigation District.

That supply, however, is contingent upon there being enough water to transfer, and Mother Nature has shown herself to be a fickle provider. Conservation and reclamation of already used water doesn't rely on the vagaries of the weather. So the Las Vegas area, a desert like San Diego County, provides an example for what can be done locally.

Total water consumption in the Las Vegas area dropped by 13 billion gallons from 2002 to 2007, said Doug Bennett, conservation manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the water wholesaler for the region. During the same period, the area's population has increased by 400,000.

Las Vegas has had no choice but to become more efficient in conserving and reusing water. The landlocked area doesn't even have the desalination option available to coastal San Diego County.

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