Where will we get the water for Banning Ranch?

In this video, Banning Ranch Conservancy Vice-Chair Suzanne Forster explains how the Banning Ranch development project will put unrealistic demands on an already severely-diminished water supply.

Transcript (edited to fit YouTube character limits):

Where is the water coming from?

The most current document that deals with the project’s water supply is a 2010 Water Supply Assessment Report done by the City of Newport Beach as part of its environmental review under CEQA. By law the report must evaluate the water supply over a 20 year period to 2030. The report was based on a 2005 urban water management plan, and concluded that there was enough water for the project. However, a disclaimer in the last paragraph of the report puts the entire report into question.

The disclaimer states, “It’s acknowledged that uncertainties have come to light since the 2004 urban water management…however, record drought, climate change and environmental conditions are beyond the scope of this assessment.” The report acknowledges that record drought conditions have not been taken into consideration in evaluating the project’s water supply.

In the throes of record drought with more of the same predicted, how can a project as massive as NBR go forward with an unusable water supply? According to the WSAR the project’s water demands are estimated at 613 acre feet, or about 200 million gallons of water, per year.

On page 20, the report states that the City receives all of its ground water from the lower Santa Ana Basin, but according to the Orange County Water District’s 2015 Ground Water Management Plan, the Santa Ana basin is already seriously over-drafted. The river’s base flow has declined 158,600 acre feet in 1999 to just 64,900 acre feet in 2014. That’s a 60% loss in the water basin’s water supply.

Our other water resources are in trouble too. The snow pack which supplies 1/3 of the state’s water is expected to be at 6% of normal this year. Water deliveries from the Colorado River dropped to their lowest in 2014. And the State Water Project plans to deliver just 20% of contracted amounts this year.

And here is where the 2010 WSAR goes off track.It states on page 22 that from 2007 to 2030 ground water supplies will increase by 622 acre feet and imported water supplies will nearly double and that’s how they are able to say that there is enough water for their project. But remember this is a 2010 report that was based on a flawed 2005 report.

So today in 2015, we know that there is significantly less ground water to draw on. Allotments are going down, not up, as are imported water sources. The only thing going up is demand. Projected water demands for Newport Beach will increase over 1,000 feet by 2030, so that’s over 326 million gallons, and that is despite all the new conservation and water use efficiency measures.

This raises the question of whether the water supply for the project is consistent with the ground water protections of the Coastal Act. Section 30231 of the Coastal Act requires preventing the depletion of ground water. The Santa Ana Basin has already been depleted by 60%. How much more water are we going to take, and how much more can we take before we risk disasters like salt water intrusion that could destroy the entire water supply.

On May 12, the City voted to declare a Level 3 water shortage, which comes with mandatory 25% water restrictions that could trigger fines and penalties. But how much more will we have to cut to accommodate a project like the one proposed on Banning Ranch, and all the other projects that are going up? How much more water do we have to cut? 50%? Even more? At some point this is not just a quality of life issue, it becomes a human health issue.

And when we force all these cut backs on residents and businesses, aren’t we robbing Peter to pay Paul?

The Banning Ranch development is a massive project that’s going to take at least 200 million gallons of water every year. We’re in the throes of record drought with predictions of more to come. I’ve heard there’s some possibility of an El Niño. But given that it will take 11 trillion gallons of water just to recover what we’ve lost since 2011, even the mother of all el Niños isn’t going to fix that.

That’s why I’m urging you to do whatever is necessary to ensure that the project’s water demand is going to be accurately estimated and reconciled with future water supply, not just for the present but dating to 2030 as the law requires.

Please put all of your available resources into ensuring that our depleted ground water sources are not being exploited but instead are being protected and wisely used as required by the Coastal Commission and the Coast Act.

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