SAN FRANCISCO — Southern California water agencies are planning the most aggressive measures in the state to reduce their reliance on water imports, according to a new analysis released by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The top five agencies, the City of Santa Monica, the City of Camarillo, Ventura County Water District No. 1, the Long Beach Water Department and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, are collectively cutting water imports by 40 billion gallons per year by 2035, which is more than the annual water use of Sacramento.
They’re reducing imports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta and Colorado River — two severely overtapped water sources that require more water in order to remain healthy enough to support important fisheries, including salmon.
“These agencies prove that we can have reliable water supplies, healthy rivers and robust fisheries at the same time and at an affordable cost,” said Kate Poole, senior attorney and head of NRDC’s Water and Wildlife project. “Water agencies throughout the state can do the same if customers demand it. Knowing where your water supply comes from today and in the future is critical to ensuring sustainable water for all Californians.”
The analysis, “Tackling Water Scarcity: Five Southern California Water Agencies Lead the Way to a More Sustainable Tomorrow,” examines data from more than 350 water agencies’ 2010 urban water management plans, resulting in the most comprehensive compilation of water management plan data available to the public. The findings reveal that the leading five agencies plan to reduce their reliance on imported Bay Delta or Colorado River water by at least 35 percent by 2035, which is equivalent to the annual water use of more than 1.11 million people, or more than 40 billion gallons per year.
The water reductions by these agencies are: the City of Santa Monica (100% reduction), the City of Camarillo (85% reduction), Ventura County Water District No. 1 (62% reduction), Long Beach Water Department (46% reduction) and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (35% reduction). They will achieve these reductions through proven and more sustainable techniques such as urban rainwater and stormwater harvesting, better groundwater management, and water conservation, recycling and efficiency.
The analysis also includes a searchable online tool allowing the public to easily find where their water comes from and what their local water agency plans are for future water supplies. The zip code tool can be found at http://bit.ly/CaliforniaWater.
The City of Santa Monica plans to completely eliminate its need for imported water from the Bay Delta and the Colorado River by 2020 by investing in water use efficiency, as well as employing alternative solutions such as recycled water, greywater, rainwater, stormwater and sustainable groundwater pumping. In 2011, Santa Monica completed a groundwater remediation effort that opened five wells, increasing the amount of water produced locally from 16 percent to approximately 70 percent. While Santa Monica pays about $800 per acre-foot to purchase treated water from the Colorado River and Bay Delta, its groundwater remediation effort now allows the city to spend just $330 per acre-foot to produce its own groundwater, offsetting demand for more expensive imported water.
Most water agencies in California also have the capacity to reduce their water use through expanded water conservation efforts. The Long Beach Water Department, for instance, is implementing “Lawn to Garden,” a landscape conversion program with a $3 per square foot incentive to replace grass lawns with more water efficient landscapes. This is the highest landscape conversion incentive rate in California. To date, Long Beach has retrofitted more than 800 residential lawns and expects to reach 1,000 lawn conversions later this year. As a result of this and similar conservation efforts by Long Beach, water use declined from 167 gallons per person per day in 1980 to 110 gallons in 2010. By 2035, Long Beach expects efficiency improvements to reduce water use to 100 gallons per person per day.
While these agencies are planning for sustainable water supplies for the future, the state of California is currently developing its own long-term water management plan called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.
However, the state’s current multibillion dollar plan involves two underground tunnels to divert more water out of the Bay-Delta estuary, and it lacks new investments in water conservation, recycling, and other local supply solutions.
In January, NRDC along with conservation and business groups, water agencies and elected officials, urged the state to analyze a portfolio-based alternative to the current BDCP plan. The portfolio-based alternative is consistent with the best available science and provides a more sustainable and affordable package of water supply and fisheries solutions. It calls for taking less water out of the Bay Delta and reducing the number of new tunnels and intakes in order to invest the cost savings in water recycling, conservation, new storage and levee improvements. This portfolio-based alternative is also consistent with these five agencies’ plans and with the long-term water needs of the state.
Read more about the portfolio-based alternative to the BDCP plan at http://bit.ly/17BExRE.