The Los Angeles Coalition for the Economy & Jobs – Weekly Update – October 9, 2017
Southern California Water Supply is Front & Center this Week
This Tuesday October 10, the 38 board members of the Metropolitan Water Board of Southern California (MWD) will consider approving the district’s 26 percent share ($4.3 billion) of financing the California WaterFix project as well as moving forward on a governance structure to build and finance the $17 billion project.
California WaterFix is a comprehensive solution proposed by state and federal agencies to ensure the state has a reliable water supply for many years to come. It would modernize the decades-old delivery system through the building of three new intakes in the northern Delta along with two tunnels to carry water to the existing aqueduct system in the southern Delta.
About 30 percent of the water that flows out of taps in Southern California comes from Northern California via the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. But the Delta’s delivery system is badly outdated, a problem compounded both by a declining ecosystem and 1,100-mile levee system that are increasingly vulnerable.
MWD’s role is to import water from the delta and sell it to Los Angeles and other Southern California water agencies serving 19 million people. The MWD staff has recommended that the board vote yes, saying the project is necessary to maintain deliveries of Northern California water.
Even though the City of L.A. would greatly benefit from this project, L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz, called on Mayor Garcetti late last week, to oppose the project. Koretz said ratepayer money should instead be spent on local water projects and he wants the council to vote on his resolution this Tuesday morning before the MWD vote later that day.
Though Koretz’s resolution is symbolic, since the city doesn’t formally have a say in the proposal, his move could put pressure on the mayor and his five appointments to the board to vote no.
To date Mayor Garcetti hasn’t taken a position on WaterFix but has stated that he wants to protect ratepayers, develop local water resources, and ensure that L.A. has enough water for generations.
The good news is that L.A.’s residents are the most efficient for per capita water consumption among U.S. urban areas with populations of more than one million residents; but L.A.’s three decade long effort to develop local water supplies and reduce consumption will not be enough to meet the future needs of the region.
To date the L.A. Coalition has seen real value in supporting the investments and policies that are being implemented by the Metropolitan Water District and by Mayor Garcetti’s sustainability plan, but the ultimate success of both plans will require greater cooperation among local governments, involve securing local and state funding, and require smart investments in wastewater recycling, stormwater capture, and conservation projects throughout the region.
What is important to remember, is that some of these initiatives – recycling and wastewater treatment – require a large water source of their own.
That is why the MWD vote is critically needed to secure a more reliable water source for years to come.
If you are in support of this effort, please use this opportunity to reach out to Mayor Garcetti, Council President Herb Wesson and other members of the L.A. City Council today, October 9, to urge their support of the California WaterFix project to help push through a successful MWD vote. If you would like their contact information please let me know.
Background on CA’s Water Supply
- California’s developed water supply, water that is produced or brought into a water system through the efforts of people, comes from three main sources: (1) Snow melt from the Sierra Nevada (2) Local groundwater, and (3) Imported water from the Colorado River basin.
- The state’s developed water supply is consumed by three main users: Agriculture (62%), the Environment (22%) and Urban (16%).
- Approximately 75 percent of the state’s precipitation occurs in Northern California and two‐thirds of all precipitation and snow pack melt off occurs in the northern Sacramento Valley watershed.
- Farmers and the nine water districts that lie to the north of Sacramento hold more than half of the claims on the state’s waterways, while approximately two‐thirds of the irrigable land in the state lies south in the San Joaquin Valley and 75 percent of the state’s water supply demand comes from Southern California.
- California’s Water Rights California’s water laws have historically based appropriation rights to whomever was first to put water to use; and miners, ranchers, farmers and commercial ventures have traded those rights since the Gold Rush days.
- In 1886 the State Supreme Court ruled that people who owned land along the rivers had first dibs on the flow of the water and the millions of acres of arable land throughout the Central Valley could not qualify for riparian rights because they were not adjacent to reliable sources of surface water, and their water rights were effectively subordinate to those of riparians. Over time riparian rights have become an obstacle to developing water supplies for California’s growing cities.
- California’s Water Conveyance System For the past century the state has utilized federal, state and local dollars to develop the Central Valley Project (CVP) and the California State Water Project (SWP) to move water from the north to the south. The CVP was started by the state and taken over by the federal government during the great depression. It is one of the world’s largest water storage and transport systems operating 22 reservoirs that irrigate more than 3 million acres of farmland and provides drinking water to nearly 2 million consumers.
- The SWP was created as a water storage and delivery system comprised of reservoirs, aqueducts, and power and pumping plants that distribute to 29 urban and agricultural water suppliers in Northern California, the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley, the Central Coast and Southern California. The biggest difference between the two projects – the CVP sends about 70 percent of its water to farms and 30 percent to cities, while the SWP’s deliveries are 70 percent urban (25 million residents) and 30 percent agriculture (approximately 1 million irrigated acres).
- They share some facilities, including the vast San Luis Reservoir in central California and the byways of the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta. Water’s Relation to Energy Moving this water requires tremendous amounts of energy.
- The CVP and SWP alone consume nearly five percent of all the state’s electricity. Nineteen percent of the state’s overall energy supply goes toward either moving water across the state through a sophisticated distribution system, or for the treatment of water and wastewater. Energy is the second largest water user in the state. It is used to refine and process fuel, produce electricity and cool power plants. Thirty‐two percent of California’s natural gas consumption goes toward water as well. Much of it is used for heating water in homes.
- The state’s future water supply portfolio is likely to be more energy intensive due to stricter water quality standards and new and alternative water sources – such as water recycling and desalination – will require more energy than it takes to access traditional surface and groundwater sources. Additionally, since a large amount of freshwater is used to produce electricity in the state the lower water levels in lakes and rivers has begun to threaten the state’s ability to make environmentally‐friendly hydroelectric power that the West needs to power homes and businesses.
The SWP’s and CVP’s Water Supply
- The SWP and CVP systems rely on the Sierra snowpack for a major part of their annual water storage. As more precipitation falls as rain instead of snow, it will challenge the existing reservoirs and flood control facilities that were built to accommodate a more gradual runoff of melting snow. When combined with the increased environmental regulations on pumping through the Delta, this normally reliable supply has been significantly reduced. Currently these projects deliver only about 50 to 60 percent on average of the amount of water they were promised to deliver.
- The Shift from Surface Water to Ground Water In California groundwater is treated as a private good and in some areas up to 75 percent of the shortfall in precipitation is being made up by groundwater withdrawals. For every gallon of water in rivers or lakes, fifty more lie buried in vast aquifers beneath the surface of the earth and sturdy drills and cheap new pumps have made much of that water available. California’s farmers are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to drill ever‐deeper wells, drawing water away from other shallow wells, eventually causing them to go dry. Unfortunately, once groundwater is gone it is often gone for good and chronic overdraft has led to falling groundwater levels, dry wells, land subsidence, decreased groundwater storage capacity, decreased water quality and stream depletion.
- Over the past century, the Central Valley has lost enough groundwater to fill Lake Tahoe – or enough to inundate the entire state by 14 inches. Water districts that lie to the north of Sacramento have decided to sell the water they get from reservoirs or rivers to farmers down south in the San Joaquin Valley. In turn they are fallowing their own crops or using their groundwater instead. Since this water rights system relies on self‐reported water, use records are full of errors and years out of date, meaning officials do not know if rights holders are over‐drawing or wasting water.
- Two years ago Governor Brown is expected to approve a historic measure that would regulate groundwater for the first time in California’s history. (California was the only Western state without controls on the amount of water taken from wells.) The legislation intends to limit overpumping by directing local agencies to draw up their own “groundwater sustainability plans,” with fines for violations.
- Agriculture’s Role in Reducing Water Usage through Innovation As the state’s largest consumer of water Agriculture is using innovative techniques to reduce their water usage. Currently 75 percent of the state’s farmers are now using drip irrigation or microsprinklers, which uses less water and produces the same yield. (Some experts estimate that as much as 50 percent of water used for irrigation is wasted due to evaporation, wind, or runoff caused by inefficient irrigation methods and systems.)
- Some farmers have begun to level their fields with lasers, making irrigation even more precise, and genetically modified crops have produced several strains of rice that require only a fraction of the water most farmers use today.
Los Angeles’ Water Supply
- MWD is the largest supplier of treated water in the United States and is a consortium of 26 cities and water districts that provide drinking water to nearly 19 million people in parts of L.A., Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.
- The MWD currently delivers an average of 1.7 billion gallons of water per day to a 5,200‐square‐mile service area with a large majority of its water from the State Water Project and the Colorado River Aqueduct. The MWD also maintains three major water reservoirs and operates five purification and treatment plants that collectively filter water for more than 17 million Southern Californians. (The federal government owns most of the state’s 21 major reservoirs/lakes and the cost to build a new reservoir is $2.3 to $3.2 billion.
- Annual maintenance is $10 to $21 million, and state and federal agencies spend about $3 billion and $510 million annually maintaining infrastructure. Local agencies, funded by monthly water and waste water bills spend about $30 billion annually for delivering water services and maintaining infrastructure.)
- Southern California’s supply of water from the Colorado River is also no longer sustainable and the federal Bureau of Reclamation recently stated that the projected gap between supply and demand of the Colorado River could exceed a trillion gallons a year by 2060, and with Lake Mead at 40 percent of its capacity the seven states that pull from it will need to sacrifice more of their allotment in the near future.
- The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). LADWP operates a water system that includes production, distribution, treatment, pumping, water resources, and engineering for the largest municipal utility in the U.S. serving more than 4 million customers.
- L.A. imports 89 percent of its water and the majority of their water supply comes from the Sierra Nevada via the L.A. Aqueduct, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and lesser amounts from local groundwater, which is continually being threatened by chemical pollutants, such as MTBE and perchlorates, and a small portion from recycled water, which is used for irrigation, recreation, and industrial purposes. The use of their water from specific sources can vary greatly from year to year and conservation and recycling are key sources.
- As its supply from the Mono and Owens basins decline LADWP is studying ways to increase use of recycled water, stormwater capture and reuse, and increased conservation. More than 10 percent of LADWP’s 7,200 miles of water pipes were built 90 years ago and the average age of a city pipe is 58, compared with an optimal life span of 100 years. Many of the pipes are so old that local water utilities lose 1 out of every 7 gallons of drinking water before it arrives to a customer.
- Bringing pipes that deliver water to 3.9 million people up to snuff could cost the City of L.A. $4 billion — more than half the city’s annual operating budget. Getting all of the city’s infrastructure, including streets and sidewalks, into good shape could cost a staggering $10 billion to $15 billion.
Consumer Demands on the Water Supply
- There is no standard for how much water a person needs each day, but experts usually put the minimum at fifty liters. Most people drink two or three liters, less than it takes to flush a toilet (Thanks to L.A. Coalition member Marc Nathanson – www.falconwaterfree.com – the average amount of water in a standard flush has fallen from six gallons to 1.6.) and the rest is typically used for cooking, bathing, and sanitation. Americans consume between four hundred and six hundred liters of water each day, Europeans use less than half that and Southern Californians use an average of 680 liters of water per person, per day.
- L.A. residents have a good track record of conserving water – it has the lowest per capita water consumption among U.S. urban areas with populations of more than 1 million. Up to 60‐70 percent goes toward outdoor uses, such as the watering of lawns and gardens.
- The good news is that Angelenos are consuming less water than they did in the late 1970s. Forty percent of the water consumed by Americans goes into meat and dairy production. It takes a thousand tons of water to grow a ton of grain and fifteen thousand to raise a ton of cow. Thirteen hundred gallons of water go into the production of a single hamburger; a steak requires double that amount. Far more water is used to manufacture food, paper, and cotton than flushing the toilet, washing our cars, or taking a bath. A standard cup of coffee requires a hundred and forty liters of water, most of which is used to grow the coffee plant.