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Catalina Island's Ongoing Drought Problems Could Put Its Restaurant Industry in Jeopardy

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Water issues are affecting everyone.

Original Jack's Country Kitchen, Catalina Island
Original Jack's Country Kitchen, Catalina Island
flickr/davidwilson

Catalina Island, that idyllic destination not more than an hour boat ride away from Los Angeles, is falling on hard times. Tourism isn’t down — most seem to agree that it’s as strong as ever, thanks in part to the hot-as-hell days already upon the Southland. Rather, it’s the ongoing drought that has many restaurants and hotels scrambling.

As Curbed reports, there are already some drastic measures being taken on the island to curb water usage. As a whole, full-time residents and businesses have already pared back their water needs by some 30%, yet it may not be enough. The LA Times says that Southern California Edison’s Stage 3 restrictions likely to go in effect in October would mean a near-ban on any new construction (new buildings equal more water being taken from the overall system, not to mention the water needed during actual construction). The long-anticipated Catalina Island Museum is already on hold thanks to water issues.

Beyond that, restaurants would likely be forced to transfer to the usage of paper plates only. That’s a tough sell for tourists who come to Catalina hoping for an upscale getaway; they already have people complaining about the bottled water being sold on site. "It’s already an issue," says one employee at the famed Lobster Trap in Avalon. "People come here expecting to be taken care of, and they’re surprised when we tell them that we can’t even give them tap water." The pricier bottles — and their waste — are beginning to add up.

At one of the more upscale properties in town that asked not to be named, there are worries about what the future holds. "It’s only going to get worse, and I don’t know what we’re going to do," says one employee. "People come here expecting to be able to spray themselves down after hitting the beach, and then take a shower again before dinner, and that’s going to disappear. It’s really tough, but that tourism is also so important here."

For now, much of the scarce water supply that exists for the island comes from a desalinization plant working close to capacity. The rest is being sent along on boats from the mainland, while things like dirty hotel laundry is being shipped back for cleaning. It’s an expensive merry-go-round of needs for the island, which is soon to hit peak tourism time this summer. If every restaurant on the island is forced to turn to disposable plates and silverware this fall, the results could be devastating for the island’s tourist economy.

And yet, the alternative could be much, much worse.