The nation's weather-induced energy crunch is opening a second front. Two giant drought-stricken West Coast power companies warned today of power cuts that will lead to tens of thousands of lost jobs for the region by March and "rolling blackouts" by summer if no relief is found.
Both companies are heavily dependent on hydroelectric energy. Some of the West has been locked in to the worst drought on record for two [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
"We're planning for the worst," said years.
[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] Earl Gjelde, assistant power manager for the Bonneville Power Administration, which supplies half of the electricity for Washington, Oregon, Idaho and western Montana. Between 70 and 80 per cent of Bonneville's elecricity is generated by water.
Gjelde said Bonneville has notified its big industrial customers they can expect a 25 per cent cut in electricity by late February unless new energy sources are located. The Bonneville supply area includes plants producing one-third of the nation's aluminum and the power company official estimated direct and indirect job losses from the cutback could reach 30,000 jobs.
The Pacific Gas and Electric Co. which supplies electricity here in the San Francisco Bay area and in much of northern California, predicted that "rolling blackouts" - losses of power in shifting locations - would begin by summer if the drought continues. PG & E depends on 55 hydroelectric generating stations in the northern portion of the state for up to half its power supply.
"The rivers are down and we know it's going to get rougher," said PG & E spekesman Larry McDonnell. He said last year the utility purchased supplemental power from the Bonneville Power Administration but this year that supply has been cut off. "Summer could be a very difficult time this year," McDonnell said.
In the San Francisco Bay area, where the drought is in its second year, residents of fashionable Marin County just north of the Golden Gate bridge awoke today to begin life under the toughest water rationing rules in the country.
Nearly 170,000 residents of the Marin Municipal Water District were ordered to cut their consumption by 57 per cent or face escalating water rates and the eventual shutoff of service to their homes. The district doubled its rate today to $1.22 per 100 cubic feet of water and general manager J. Dietrich Stroeh said users going over their allotment would pay from $10 to $50 for each additional 100 cubic feet of water.
As Stroeh told reporters the situation was "not a crisis but a disaster," shoppers throughout the county rushed frantically from store to store buying up pots, pans and even garbage cans in which to store extra water.
"I'm deactivating the dishwasher for the duration," said Kay Dephlefsen, a Mill Valley housewife who snapped up the last of hundreds of green plastic dishpans that went on sale in a drug store this morning. Shoppers spoke of going to nearly a dozen stores and not finging anything in which to collect water. Marin County administrator John Barrows said his family was catching extra shower water in five-gallon pails this morning and recycling the water to flush toilets.
Water,Barrows said, is the major topic of conversaion in his county. "I went to two parties this weekend and all that people talked about is how much water it takes to flush a toilet," he said.
Stroeh said the county's six reservoirs were down to 20 per vent of their normal load. Speaking of the restrictions, he said, "If this doesn't work, we'll have to establish central spots around the county for people to come to with buckets." Stroeh predicted the county would run out of water by next December if the dry spell contines.
A number of northern California counties have begun their own hearings and plans to enact similar water restrictions. The problem, Stroeh said, "is not just countywide but regionwide and growing throughout the West." He said his office received a telephone call from state authorities in Utah this morning asking for information on how to set up their own water restrictions.
According to the Nationa Weather Service, the drought in not an extension of the pattern which has brought abnormally cold and snowy weather to the East Midwest.
Weather in the upper Northwest was unseasonably cool and rainy as late as September. Then the rain stopped, as if someone had turned off the spigots and turned on the sunshine. Since then the snow pack in the Northwestern mountain watersheds has bee only 25 per cent or less of its usual accumulation.
No nountain precipitation means no spring runoff of water into the elaborate reservoir and dam system of the Columbia River Basin. Federal and state officials in Oregon and Washington said that the Northwest, which normally exports power during the winter rainy season, instead is purchasing significant amounts of "surplus" electric energy from British Columbia.
But even with these purchases, the Bonneville Power Administration has already queried local and state governments in its region to determine where power cutbacks should be made.
A Bonneville official said brownouts in the Northwest could come as early as spring when the weather is ordinarily a steady drizzle. "We are spending last year's water supply," the spokesman said.
Contributing to this story was special correspondent Joseph A. Stein.