We Have Plenty Of Water Here, Right?

No! Where have you been, in a coma?

Our local farmers receive most of their water from the Colorado River, but shortages are chronic. At a recent meeting of the International Boundary and Water Commission, farmers looked to authorities for answers they don’t have.

Water managers in the region have developed contingency for stretching the state’s dwindling water supply such as desalination plants, wells and reservoirs, canal lining projects, and novel irrigation techniques to try to solve the region’s water plight. “There practically has not been one day since I became secretary that the main topic has not been water,” said Manuel Valladolid, Baja California’s agriculture secretary. The coastal regions from Tijuana to Ensenada represent the most severely affected, according to Conagua, the National Water Commission.

Tijuana is dependent upon the Colorado River for 98% of its water, while Ensenada is the only municipality in Baja California not currently using water from the river. It relies on aquifers, but they’re not enough: the city began implementing water rationing measures last year. But while California has adopted a mandatory cut in urban water use, which has been received very well,  Baja California has not turned to such conservation measures.

The first desalination plant in Baja California is set to begin operating in 2017 in Ensenada. The reverse-osmosis facility, a $48 million plant, will supply 5.7 million gallons daily to Ensenada, the nearby San Quintín export-oriented agricultural region, and the wine-producing Valle de Guadalupe.

Mexico’s National Infrastructure Fund contributed US $14 million to the desal plant, and a $22 million loan was procured from the North American Development Bank. A South Korean company was contracted by the state to build the facility. Ensenada has relied historically on its over-burdened aquifers for both municipal and agricultural purposes. Those sources are running out of water, with the water table dropping so much that salt water is seeping in.

Governor Kiki  Vega recently announced plans for another desalination plant south of Ensenada in San Quintín. The hard hit farmers in this region have been using privately-operated desalinations plants for years to avoid using the well water, which is not to their liking. It is unreliable and brackish. The state’s agricultural secretariat estimates the number of private desal plants in the area at 52. “By instructions of the governor, we are turning toward the Pacific, through public-private investments,” said Germán Lizola, director of the Baja California State Water Commission (CEA).

Not only will the ocean supply water to Ensenada through desalinization, but the Colorado River will also be used to pick up some of the slack. By the end of summer, Ensenada will begin receiving approximately 6.8 million gallons each day from Tijuana through re-purposed infrastructure, which will carry water from the river to Ensenada for the first time.

Our precious Valle de Guadalupe, known worldwide for its wineries, has been one area that has been studied closely, with projects such as piping in treated wastewater from Tijuana weighed as a solution. Well, TJ is a big city, and certainly not lacking for sewage, so all we have to do is treat the stuff  really, really carefully and then throw it onto the grape vines, right?  Of course we all trust the Mexican infrastructure to do a good job of that. Right? Well, if they screw this up, maybe it will be OK, as alcohol is a disinfectant.

Some reprieve for our water woes is in the forecast, as predictions are showing a 96% chance for continued El Niño conditions from next September to November, with a 94% chance of them carrying on through January. If that happens, wetter weather is coming our way. Until then, you might not want to eat any grapes off the vine. Wait until they’re fermented and can deal with the Tijuana sewer water.