If They Build It, Who Will Come?

Plans by Southern California water agencies to reduce their demand for imported water were highlighted this week by the National Geographic Newswatch blog and the Los Angeles Times.

National Geographic  reported on the efforts of Santa Monica, Camarillo, Ventura County Waterworks District No. 1, Long Beach Water Department, and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to reduce their demand for imported Bay-Delta and Colorado River water by more than 40 billion gallons per year, equivalent to the amount of water 1.11 million people would use in one year. The article highlights efforts by these jurisdictions to boost local supplies through recycling, conservation and development of more local supplies.

The Los Angeles Times article discusses how a proposed project of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power might make that a reality. LADWP announced plans to build the largest groundwater treatment plant in the world to reduce its purchases of costly imported water.

“By 2035, we plan to reduce our purchases of imported water by half,” said James McDaniel, LADWP’s senior assistant general manager.

Similarly, many of MWD’s member agencies have plans to reduce their demands for imported water over the coming decades. In January, a  report compiled by the San Diego County Water Authority using the member agencies’ Urban Water Management Plans found that planned local supply projects could reduce demand for imported water by as much as 1.2 million acre-feet by 2035. To view a map of the planned local projects, click here.

Yet, MWD – Southern California’s water wholesaler and  the biggest buyer of water from the State Water Project – has not considered many of these  projects in its decision-making about support for a proposed Bay-Delta facility. Ratepayers are being asked to pay for a project that currently does not take into account the reality that most water agencies in Southern California are planning to decrease their imported water purchases from Metropolitan, and thus, in turn, lessen the demand for water from the Bay-Delta. A coalition of environmental groups, water agencies, and businesses has asked the state to include the following in its analysis:

■ What is the real demand in Southern California for water imported from the Bay-Delta?

■ What size project are agencies willing to pay for, as demonstrated by firm, long-term financial commitments by those who will benefit from it?

MWD acknowledges that its member agencies are not obligated to purchase any of the water available from MWD. If MWD’s member agencies continue to reduce their purchases of imported water from Metropolitan, as they already are doing, who will be left to pay Metropolitan’s share of the Bay-Delta costs?