Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Los Angeles DWP's groundwater hopes may raise your water rates

Los Angeles city water and power commissioners have approved a new strategy to keep water flowing to homes and businesses and it takes shrinking supplies into account. I reported this story briefly this week, I've now had a little more time to check the full documentation of the strategy out (I didn't check the full document out fully, but at least I know there is one and I made a dent in it). 

The LA Department of Water and Power has to make an urban water management plan every five years – like every water utility in the state does. Since the last time the utility did this, state law added a requirement that the DWP cut water use per person by 20 percent within nine years. That's made these documents way more important – and made them good places to look at a utility's strategy for the future.

To start at the beginning: LA's water consumption (or conservation thereof) is pretty impressive: in this figure you can see pretty clearly that consumption's off even a little compared to 1980.

What makes this especially impressive is this figure from the executive summary, in which these same numbers are presented against population growth. More people are using less water than ever before is, in fact, true.

Still, this document hasn't always been so accurate. According to copy accompanying the following chart:

As seen, the Conservation Model is performing as expected. The modeled water consumption (red line) is nearly identical to the actual water consumption (blue line) up until 1990. After 1990, the modeled water consumption is greater than actual water consumption. 

Seems, though, like LA was projecting a lot of headroom for itself, consumption wise. LA only recently brought that guess down. I wonder whether that's a statewide effect of making them cut water use per capita by 20 percent?

Gone from this plan is a possible desal plant at Scattergood. DWP is building itself a connection between the LA Aqueduct and the California aqueduct. That will allow water transfers from the SWP to the DWP - 40-thousand acre feet a year, which to my ears doesn't sound like a lot. Water banking, for the time being, is a designated bust.

Now getting a bigger spotlight? Recycling water for industrial use and for irrigation in areas such as city parks. 

LADWP has the goal of replacing 50,000 AFY of potable water with recycled water by 2029. That doesn't seem very aggressive - though they do somewhat cheerfully point out they want to get that up to 59,000 by 2035. I thought they were trying to do more and faster? 

Also conservation, especially for outdoor landscaping that represents more than half the water use in the region's single-family homes. Without City Council ordinance making - there's little they can do here past clearning their throats and saying, ahem, single family residences, cough cough, 54 percent of your water demand goes to your lawns REALLY?

Maybe the most interesting news to me is about groundwater. DWP writes that it also would like to use more of the water it stores below the surface in aquifers in the San Fernando Valley. That poses a problem, however, because historic pollution contaminates that water.

So DWP is doing a comprehensive analysis about what kind of treatment they need to do to use more of that water. Who pays for that? 

Tragically, the answers there are scarce. A proposed water bond - the overstuffed burrito of water interests pulled from the ballot last year, going on the ballot next year - could include groundwater funding. And there's this optimistic sentence: "LADWP may be able to recover some costs for groundwater cleanup from potentially responsible parties." Ha. (This reminds me about my long planned pamphlet, or series of blog entries: know your Superfund cleanup sites.) Bottom line: groundwater's the only reason DWP's willing to give in this plan about why your rates might rise.

The full Urban Water Management Plan can be found here.