With Colorado River Supplies in Question, Report Details Innovative Water-Saving Alternative

The reasons why the specter of reduced water deliveries from the Colorado River is not considered a crisis for urban Southern California becomes evident in a 48-page report issued by the Metropolitan Water District.

Metropolitan's annual report to the state Legislature on achievements in conservation, water recycling and groundwater storage highlights an investment of $292 million to date in regional resource programs that help insulate Southern California from both expected and unanticipated supply shortfalls.

"Our region's good fortune is credited to an integrated resources planning policy and program embraced by Metropolitan and its 26 public member agencies, which has created a diverse resource portfolio that allows for adaptability," said MWD Chairman Phillip J. Pace.

"Of course, we continue to factor in the possibility that surplus Colorado River water may be reduced by drought and other factors when we made our supply projections, just as we have factored in other things that can impact long-term supply reliability such as water quality issues," Pace said.

Metropolitan imports water from the Colorado River and the State Water Project in Northern California to supplement the region's water supply and funds programs such as conservation, water recycling, groundwater treatment and storage and desalination that help expand the region's portfolio of reliable water resources.

Since 2000, Metropolitan has provided an annual progress report to the state Capitol to keep legislators up to date on urban Southern California's progress. The full report also is posted on Metropolitan's web site at www.mwdh2o.com.

Ronald R. Gastelum, Metropolitan chief executive officer, said the release of the new report is especially timely as California, particularly Metropolitan, deals with persistent questions about the amount of surplus water available from the Colorado River because of drought and other factors. With the loss of surplus Colorado River supplies in 2003, Metropolitan's deliveries from the river have been reduced from about 1.2 million acre-feet to just over 700,000 acre-feet.

"This year, conservation regained its celebrity status as record warm weather and other environmental and legal concerns threatened the supply reliability and we turned to tried-and-true sources for additional supply," Gastelum said.

"While Southern Californians have embraced conservation as a way of life and saved billions of gallons of water each year in the process, Metropolitan looked for new programs and initiatives that could provide new opportunities for water savings," Gastelum said.

In 2002, Metropolitan and its member agencies marked major milestones in their conservation and regional resource program efforts with the distribution of the 2-millionth ultra-low-flush toilet and the extension of its rebate program to new high-efficiency water-saving equipment, including a recirculating X-ray developer and a pressurized water broom. Commercial, industrial and institutional customers were offered new rebate options.

New this year to Metropolitan's roster of programs is an outdoor conservation program that extends the focus from the highly successful indoor water-saving program to the potential for savings with landscape and irrigation changes. Between 30 to 70 percent of residential water consumed in Metropolitan's six-county service area is used outdoors to water lawns and landscape.

The new conservation program focuses on native and drought-tolerant plants as a means of recapturing California's natural landscape heritage. That program features a City Makeover Program, which will offer grants of $75,000 each to six public sites selected through a competitive process this spring.

Through fiscal year 2002, Metropolitan invested $171 million in conservation programs, $95 million in recycling programs and $26 million in groundwater recovery programs.

Metropolitan's Innovative Conservation Program provided more than $200,000 for 10 promising conservation ideas in 2002, and earned a one-year program renewal from Metropolitan's board. Additional rebates for dual-flush toilets and evapotranspiration controllers for landscape irrigation also were approved, as was a hotel/motel/restaurant customer water conservation education card program.

Turning water from the Pacific Ocean into drinking water became more viable with the introduction of Metropolitan's seawater desalination program launched in 2001 to provide financial incentives for the development of cost-effective seawater desalination projects. A request for proposals produced five projects by Metropolitan member agencies, which Metropolitan's board is considering.

Metropolitan's Community Partnering Program, which continued in its third year to provide grants for conservation-themed projects, awarded $550,000 for 74 projects in 2002 and currently is seeking applications for 2003 awards.

New groundwater agreements and dozens of new transfer agreements promise additional sources of water and give Southern California the ability to better weather any future cutbacks of Colorado River water.

"Metropolitan has initiated a series of water storage and transfer programs that will provide additional water resources to the Southland," Gastelum said. "By diversifying our supply options, we have cushioned Southern California against future droughts."

Metropolitan Water District, Los Angeles

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