By Christina B. Farnsworth. Newhall Ranch, planned home for 70,000 Californians, may have dried up on the vine. Across the country, Groveland, Fla.'s partial annexation of Green Swamp for homes, a grocery store, pharmacy, and doctors' offices has been challenged by environmentalists.

The concern? Water. Or, rather, lack of water.

Experts say water availability will be a crucial deciding factor in future growth nationwide, and water wars are rampant. Arid Southwestern states have long argued over the mighty Colorado River. In Arizona, where builders already have to prove there is a long-term potable water supply before building subdivisions, the answer has often been the Colorado. But the river was at peak flow and populations radically smaller when Colorado River water was originally distributed among the Western states.

Just in the last decade, Nevada's population has doubled and Arizona's increased by 40 percent. Moreover, there is international pressure on water. Recently, Mexico asked that enough Colorado River water be apportioned to restore the once lush river delta that flowed into the Sea of Cortez.

In Colorado and New Mexico, where water is equally precious, discussion even centers on how much water harvesting from roofs may be allowed; officials are concerned that excess water harvesting for personal use may diminish replenishment of local watersheds by diverting rain into personal cisterns. One New Mexican estimated that his 1,500-square-foot roof has the potential to collect 2,250 cubic feet of water annually based on his area's average annual 18 inches of precipitation.

New Mexico officials worry that personal water harvesting may capture run-off required to replenish the Rio Grande, and they worry about maintaining state and city contracted water supplies. More than 80 percent of the New Mexico population resides in cities along the Green River corridor of the Rio Grande. To keep the faucets flowing, nervous local governments are attempting to renegotiate water contracts that guarantee usage in perpetuity.

Even in areas with frequent rain, water is an issue. Agricultural chemicals have tainted Midwestern water aquifers. Georgia, Alabama, and Florida have what some call the "tri-state water wars" over the apportioning of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa basin.

Georgia is especially concerned about having sufficient water to meet metro Atlanta's needs. Alabama fears excess water taken from the basins will limit its growth potential. And just as the Colorado River delta has been blighted by greatly diminished water flow; Alabama is concerned about maintaining its bay to support its multi-million dollar shellfish industry.

Near Groveland, where officials want to build, some 287,320 of Green Swamp's roughly half-million acres have already been set aside as a state "area of critical concern," so designated because it is Florida's major drinking water source.

Thus the threat to the approved Newhall Ranch project in Santa Clarita, Calif., is a harbinger of things to come not only in California but elsewhere. Developers must prove there is a sustainable water supply even during drought. Newhall Ranch spokesperson, Marcia Ward, isn't concerned that the project will halt. Residential construction uses only 10 percent of the water employed for agriculture, the land's previous use, she says, and permitting already requires developers to describe where they will get the water needed by the development. A state law that took effect in January requires all developers building 500 or more homes to show detailed proof of at least a 20-year water supply for each community they wish to build. No proof--no permit. The problem for Newhall is that the law is so new there are not yet forms and procedures in place to demonstrate compliance. When there are, Ward is sure Newhall will be good to go.

California's law enacted after a decade of debate hopes to avert the water woes of other states. Irrigation canals in Oregon's Klamath Basin have been gated and padlocked to keep farmers from taking water earmarked for fish.

Experts envision continued water stand-offs and wild-cat sprawl, if California developers choose to build smaller projects.

Sufficient Water is a Nation-Wide Issue

[Illustration: John Bardwell]

1. Padlocked gates lock farmers from irrigation canals in Oregon's Klamath Basin. 2. Newhall Ranch, Santa Clarita, Calif., is among the first communities required to comply with new California state law.

3. The Colorado River was at peak flow in a far less populated West when originally apportioned.

4. Mexico wants enough Colorado River water to restore the once lush river delta that flowed into the Sea of Cortez.

5. In Colorado and New Mexico, personal residential water harvesting is regularly debated and in some places regulated.

6. More than 80 percent of New Mexico's population resides along the Rio Grande.

7. Agricultural chemicals have tainted some Midwestern water aquifers.

8. Georgia's, Alabama's, and Florida's "tri-state water wars" are over apportioning the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa basin.

9. Alabama worries about water shortages effecting its multi-million dollar shellfish industry.

10. The threatened Green Swamp is a major Florida drinking water source.

Reprinted with permission from Range magazine

Source: Spatial Climate Analysis, Oregon State University