Water shortage could stifle growth

The probability of a boom in population, major earthquake or drought could spell a water shortage for San Mateo County in coming years, a factor that might drive away housing developments and stunt the local economy, according to a new report.

Although a wet spring coupled with the county’s recent conservation and recycling efforts have helped reduce water use, a projected boom in population is expected to increase demand for nature’s most necessary liquid nearly 25 percent by 2030, according to Sustainable San Mateo County, which released its 12th annual report Thursday.

And that won’t just mean dry mouths, but also a drought of high-tech businesses and homes hoping to set up shop on the Peninsula.

“Economic growth is tied to new housing and attracting new businesses. They can’t build here without enough water,” said Peter Ingram, interim city manager for Redwood City.

Aside from population growth, the report blames future water-supply shortages on the probability of future droughts, changes in climate affecting the Sierra Nevada snowpack and earthquakes.

Arthur Jensen, CEO of the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, said the next big earthquake could leave parts of the Bay Area without water for 30 days.

The Peninsula receives over 90 percent of its water supply from the Hetch Hetchy water system, run by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Each city is allotted a cache of water depending on its size.

The SFPUC is in the midst of a $4.3 billion effort to make the system less vulnerable to significant ground turbulence, but only 20 percent of its planned projects will be complete by 2010.

“I’d say the main threat is the fact that the regional water system that feeds water to the Peninsula crosses four earthquake faults,” Jensen said. “All of the facilities are built on or across those earthquake faults, and that’s a major risk.”

One possible solution, Jensen and Ingram said Thursday, is to have cities share their supplies of water between cities in the county to reduce dependency on the SFPUC for water. Continued conservation and recycling efforts are also a must, Jensen said.

Redwood City has played a large role in recent efforts. The city’s nationally recognized recycled water project has saved the city more than 30 million gallons of water last year, the report said.

The city has also developed rebate programs encouraging customers to buy high-efficiency clothes washers, converted playing fields to synthetic turf and added to large landscape conservation and public-outreach programs.

maldax@examiner.com

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