Drought cutbacks threaten several local industries, study says

El Centro Farm Irrigation

A farm worker adjusts sprinkler heads spraying water that comes from the Colorado River October 18, 2002 near El Centro, California. Southern California water authorities have reached a tentative agreement to shift water from farms in Imperial Valley to urban San Diego County in time to avert a federal Colorado River water cutback to California. Water officials hail the costly conservation effort as a peaceful end to California’s long water wars but Imperial Valley farmers fear a major economic downturn as fields go fallow. Imperial Valley is one of the nation’s major agricultural areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

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SAN DIEGO — Several industries in the San Diego region could be seriously affected by water use cutbacks being mandated in response to the drought, the National University System Institute for Policy Research reported Tuesday.

Agriculture, life sciences, brewing and soft drink bottling, dry cleaning and laundry services, food manufacturers and construction could face the impacts because they traditionally use more water than other business sectors, according to institute President Erik Bruvold. However, the economy in general shouldn’t be hurt much, he said.

“The data would seem to indicate that area businesses already use water efficiently and that further restrictions would not impose significant downward pressure on regional employment,” Bruvold said. “Restrictions are likely to be felt among a handful of industries, which use water in core processes. First among these will be agriculture but we could see negative impacts on a half dozen other industries based upon this data.”

The NUSIPR report was released hours before state water officials are scheduled to consider ordering large reductions for local water agencies.

The researchers found that, on average, nonagricultural businesses annually use more than 54,300 gallons of water per employee, mostly for outdoor landscaping, health and hygienic uses. Bruvold said cutbacks and restrictions are likely to pose inconveniences to certain businesses but not a region-wide impact on employment.

Agricultural businesses, which use 33 percent more water per employee than other private sector entities, could see lower income and fewer workers as a result of cutbacks, according to the NUSIPR. The study said that farmers have fewer acres in production because of water cutbacks and increasing costs.

Life science companies on a per-employee basis use 45 percent more water than the private sector average. Trade associations like Biocom and Connect have, in the past, voiced concern that water restrictions could impose significant hardship on firms that use water as part of their core research activities, according to the NUSIPR.

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