Water district fills reserves first

BURBANK — The main water wholesaler for Southern California has no plans to bump up allotments to member agencies such as Burbank and Glendale despite an announcement from the state Department of Water Resources that it would release 10% more water to the region.

Officials with California State Water Project this week announced plans to increase allotments from 30% to 40% for wholesalers, or about 200,000 additional acre-feet for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, spokesman Armando Acuna said.

But the agency will not distribute the windfall to local utilities, instead using the extra water to avoid tapping as much into its reserves, which from 2006 to 2009 have dwindled from 2.2 million acre-feet to 0.3 million acre-feet. One acre-foot of water meets the needs of two average households for a year.

“This is welcome news in terms of our ability to meet next year’s potential shortage, but it doesn’t reduce the overall need for water conservation,” said Pat Hayes, principal water engineer for Glendale Water & Power, which imports at least 65% of its water from MWD. “The need to conserve to avoid penalties is still real.”

The Burbank City Council this week preliminarily approved six stages of mandatory water restrictions, and the Glendale City Council is expected to hear a similar measure this summer. Conservation efforts in both cities have thus far yielded positive results. Glendale residents have curtailed their water use by about 4% and Burbank saw a 6.3% increase in savings.

But the rates, especially in Glendale, fall below the 10% voluntary cutbacks that were initially called for.

MWD’s Board of Directors last month voted to impose greater penalties on member agencies that exceed designated water allotments, hike rates nearly 20% and cut wholesale shipments by 10%. The board cited three consecutive dry years and restrictions on water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta as leading to its decision to seek higher fees.

The water delivery announcement, the last one this year, is the fourth lowest final allocation since the State Water Project began deliveries in 1968. State water officials in October issued a preliminary allocation forecast of 15%, which increased to 20% in March and 30% in April, the benchmark date for measuring snowpack. Lake Oroville on Friday was at 65% capacity, or 76% of average. And an April-July forecast put major snowmelt runoffs in the north at between 64% and 75% of normal levels.

“All of that is great, but if you can’t get it south of the Delta, all of that doesn’t matter,” said Bill Mace, assistant general manager for water systems at Burbank Water and Power, which gets about 55% of its water from MWD.

Contractors in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region face controlled pumping due to federal court decisions protecting the Delta and Longfin smelt.

A lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Fresno by the Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of three San Joaquin Valley farming operations claimed that the native fish is not involved in interstate commerce, so protecting it with the Endangered Species Act violates the U.S. Constitution.

Although neither Burbank nor Glendale has declared an emergency, the state has urged municipalities to voluntarily cut their usage by 20%.

Pending state legislation would make that mandatory by 2020. MWD has operated on a Level 2 drought alert, which calls for higher prices and mandatory conservation, since last month.

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