10-Year Anniversary of California's Drought Prompts Reflection on Gains on Conservation
Source: 
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

What a difference a decade makes.

Ten years and $261 million later, Southern Californian water agencies have invested in such substantial conservation, recycling and groundwater clean-up programs to ensure greater water supply reliability for the next inevitable drought. That progress is marked in a report submitted today to the California state Legislature by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

"When the six-year drought began in 1987, Southern California underwent a crash course in conservation as water agencies struggled to adjust to shrinking water supplies," said Ronald R. Gastelum, Metropolitan's Chief Executive Officer. "Southlanders continue to embrace conservation as a way of life, and Metropolitan has supportedthis consciousness with investments in a wide range of regional programs that help insulate us from any future impacts of drought."

Metropolitan imports water from the Colorado River and the State Water Project in Northern California to supplement the region's water supply, and fund programs, such as conservation, recycling and desalination, that help to extend the useful life of the water we have. Since 2000, Metropolitan has provided an annual progress report to the state capitol to keep legislators up to date on Southern California's progress.

"Probably the most telling example of our progress in the area of water planning is Metropolitan's commitment to provide for all of the region's supplemental water needs for at least the next 10 years, even in the face of critical drought, with plans and programs underway to assure the region's water supplies for 20 years and beyond," Gastelum said, referencing the report's introduction. "The reason that Metropolitan can make this promise of reliability is that we have developed a portfolio of diversified water resources that not only include conservation, recycling and groundwater programs but also water transfers, desalination and groundwater storage projects.

"To remain reliable, we all have to make the best use of the supplies we have as well as improve the quality of the water coming to us from Northern California and the Colorado River."

Progress in developing all of these resources has been significant and steady, according to Gastelum. "One of the most tangible and familiar measures of our success with promoting conservation is the enormous amount of low-volume toilets and showerheads that have been installed in Southern California residences since distribution and rebate programs began in 1991," Gastelum said. "Nearly three million water-conserving showerheads and almost two million ultra-low-flow toilets have been installed over the past 10 years at a total cost of $106 million."

Metropolitan's progress report also highlights gains in groundwater recovery projects -- 22 projects at a cumulative cost of $21 million -- as well as 53 water recycling projects with a total cost of $85 million.

"There has been a significant jump in production of recycled water with a growth of 30 percent between 1995 and 2001," Gastelum said. "We have broadened the scope of projects funded through Metropolitan's Conservation Credits program, which helps pay member agencies to install water-saving devices, with an investment to date of more than $155 million."

New to Metropolitan's roster of conservation programs is a Community Partnering Program (CPP), which has awarded about $1 million since 1999 for conservation-related programs that educate the public about water conservation, water quality and water reliability issues.

Gastelum said this year's CPP award recipients include the Arroyo Seco Restoration Project, Heal the Bay's watershed monitoring program, the Ballona Wetlands Science Symposium and the Sacramento Watershed Education Program.

"Metropolitan's conservation efforts have become more community focused in recent years, and the CPP is an offshoot of this new priority," Gastelum said.

Another new area for business conservation program development is the commercial, industrial and institutional sectors, Gastelum said, which have been targeted by Metropolitan through the Commercial, Industrial and Institutional (CII) Program. In addition, Metropolitan's Innovative Conservation Program (ICP) targets commercial, industrial and institutional sector savings as well as residential savings. Both programs were launched in 2000.

The ICP grant program selected 10 projects for first-year funding of $210,000. The projects include innovations such as a re-circulating device for X-ray film developers and a broom that sprays water to replace hosing of commercial "hardscape."

The CII program provides funding for the purchase of non-residential water conserving hardware that includes ultra-low-flow toilets, urinals, water-efficient clothes washers and cooling tower retrofits. Metropolitan has committed more than $5.5 million since the program began.

"Another change in Metropolitan's resource management strategy is the focus on storing water when supplies are plentiful for times when they are not," Gastelum said. "In that spirit, Metropolitan has initiated a series of water storage and transfer programs that will provide additional water resources to the Southland when supplies are short."

Some of these programs involve water transfers from agricultural areas where farmers have agreed to send water otherwise used for crop irrigation to urban areas in exchange for payment and other community-wide investments. Other storage programs in progress involve cooperative agreements with agencies that will store Colorado River water in groundwater basins for future delivery to Southern California in dry years.

"By diversifying our supply options, we have cushioned Southern California against future droughts," Gastelum said.

A complete copy of the report, plus other highlights are available on Metropolitan's Web site, www.mwdh2o.com.

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