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MWD Plans to Stretch Water Supply

Times Staff Writers

In an ambitious plan released Tuesday, the Metropolitan Water District said that it will dramatically increase water conservation in Southern California to keep supplies flowing to a growing population over the next 20 years.

If the MWD has its way, the amount of water that residents use in future years will be reduced by 800,000 acre-feet annually -- or enough water to supply nearly 1.6 million people.

To meet that goal, the agency is counting on the spread of new technologies such as more efficient washing machines in thousands of homes and computer-driven sprinkler systems that cut the guesswork out of watering lawns and gardens. The MWD says the use of partly treated water for irrigation will be greatly increased.

“We’ve barely begun to scratch the surface on ways we can save water,” said Ronald Gastelum, the district’s chief executive. “We’re really going to bring home the message that saving water isn’t only good for the soul, it’s good for the pocketbook.”

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The agency also plans to store more water in reservoirs and underground aquifers during wet years and tap it during droughts. The goal is to reduce the area’s reliance on its two primary water sources, the Colorado River and the State Water Project, which brings water south from Northern California.

The Los Angeles-based MWD imports water into the region and sells it to 26 local water agencies. Those agencies, in turn, distribute the water to more than 18 million customers in six counties in Southern California.

According to the MWD, the Southern California population is likely to grow by more than 6 million people by 2025. The report says that even so, there will be enough water on hand to meet the region’s needs during a prolonged drought.

District officials acknowledged the report seems bold, but pointed out that Southern California didn’t experience any water shortages in the last year despite a plethora of problems.

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The federal government took away nearly half of the MWD’s share of the Colorado River when a complex deal to reduce Southern California’s use of the river wasn’t completed by the beginning of the year. Because of low snow accumulation, State Water Project deliveries last year were 70% of normal.

Although many cities in the interior West, such as Denver and Santa Fe, N.M., had to reduce outdoor watering because of drought, austerity measures were not necessary here, MWD officials said, crediting its own foresight for avoiding shortages.

They cited the recent completion of a 45-mile pipeline in San Bernardino County that allows the district to take more water from Northern California via the California Aqueduct in years when snowfall is heavy and move it into the Diamond Valley Reservoir in Riverside County.

And last week, the MWD purchased more than 16 billion gallons of water from a few farm districts in Northern California. That water will be allowed to flow down the Sacramento River into the San Francisco Bay Delta, and then be pumped into the California Aqueduct for the journey to Southern California.

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Some environmentalists said the MWD is unrealistic to believe that such purchases -- known as water transfers -- can be relied on in the future. Their concern is that, particularly in dry years, pumping water out of the delta can lower water quality and damage wildlife habitat for several endangered fishes.

The MWD “has to learn that it can’t have everything its way,” said Tom Graff, a water policy expert with the conservation group Environmental Defense. “There needs to be a limit on the quantity of water exported from the delta if we’re going to be serious about preserving the ecological resources for the fish and water quality.”

Jeff Davis, director of the Water Resources Institute at Cal State San Bernardino, said the MWD’s report is probably realistic. “They really are doing amazing things,” he said.


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