The Threat of a Long-Term Drought to San Diego

By: Dr. Lynn Reaser

As rainfall totals continue to lag behind normal, fears are mounting that we could face a prolonged period of drought in San Diego County. This could have deep and widespread repercussions for our economy.

Unless relief comes with more rainfall and water, changes will be necessary both on the supply and demand sides. San Diego needs to diversify its supply sources from its current dependence on water imported from northern California and the Colorado River. Those sources now account for three-fourths of our supply. Recycled water, currently at only 4% of our water portfolio, would appear to be particularly promising.

On the demand side, we have seen per capita water consumption fall from about 200 gallons per day to about 150 gallons over the last decade, but more needs to be done. Pricing needs to be rationalized to encourage more efficiency. Below market pricing has encouraged more consumption than is sustainable in agriculture, industry, recreation, and by households. Phasing in change over time can avoid massive economic disruptions, but change will be necessary.

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