LOS ANGELES — The Southland is well-positioned to weather a sixth year of drought, Metropolitan Water District officials said Oct. 10, but they warned that consumers and business still need to do their share to conserve.
“The reality is that California is still in a drought. We’re just not in a state of emergency,” MWD board Chairman Randy Record said. “Heading into 2017, we’re hoping to build on the supply momentum created by Southern California’s ongoing water-saving efforts and improved storage conditions this year.”
MWD General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said the Southland is in a strong position in terms of water thanks to increases in reservoirs and local groundwater basins. He noted that the MWD received a 60 percent allocation from the State Water Project this year, more than the last three years combined. He also credited aggressive water-conservation efforts by residents.
“The increased state supplies and local water-saving is allowing us to start rebuilding our storage by up to 500,000 acre-feet by the end of the year. That’s the first increase to regional reserves in four years,” he said.
An acre-foot of water is nearly 326,000 gallons, about the amount used by two average Southland households.
The State Water Resources Control Board Oct. 5 announced that urban Californians’ monthly water conservation declined to 17.7 percent in August, down from 27 percent savings in August 2015, raising concerns that some water suppliers are abandoning their focus on conservation as California heads into a possible sixth drought year.
Californians continue to conserve water in significant amounts even in the absence of state-mandated conservation targets. The cumulative average savings from June 2015 through August 2016 was 23.3 percent, compared with the same months in 2013.
Since June 2015, two million acre-feet of water has been saved — enough water to supply 10 million people, more than one-quarter the state’s 38 million population, for a year.
However, water conservation has dropped steeply among some local water suppliers. Those declines highlight the need for continued education and dialogue with customers on the importance of conserving and using water as efficiently as possible.
As the State Water Board continues to monitor conservation levels, a return to state-mandated conservation may be necessary beginning next year.
“The statewide August conservation results raise questions, and we are examining the data to understand why some areas slipped more than others,” state Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus said. “Are we seeing relaxation of conservation messaging and programs, or are we seeing abandonment of programs? One may be appropriate, the other is not. It’s a mixed picture.
“Many communities who certified that they didn’t ‘need’ to conserve are still conserving up a storm, while others have slipped more than seems prudent.”
Marcus added: “While last year’s rain and snow brought a respite for urban California, we are still in drought, and we can’t know what this winter will bring. What we do know is that climate change will continue to make our water years even more unpredictable, so we need to retain our conservation habits for the long term, rain or shine, drought or no drought.”
MWD officials warned that there are still uncertainties with the water supply, most notably due to possible shortages in deliveries from the Colorado River, which is at less than 40 percent of its usual capacity, and Northern California, where deliveries could be curtailed due to environmental restrictions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
“Those pumping restrictions could cost Southern California of up to a third of our State Water Project supplies in average years unless the system is updated,” Record said. “You can just look at Diamond Valley Lake this year to see the impacts. Chances are we would have been able to fill the lake had it not been for pumping cutbacks.”
District officials said they will emphasize more conservation efforts, and will offer $140 million for conservation rebates over the next two years and continue funding a public-outreach campaign to encourage reduced water use.
The MWD provides water to 26 cities and water agencies that serve nearly 19 million people in six counties.