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Five California Water Districts Lead the Way in Reducing Demands on Imperiled Ecosystems

Kelly Coplin

Posted May 16, 2013 in Saving Wildlife and WIld Places, U.S. Law and Policy

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Percentage of Water from Imported Sources.pngThis April NRDC released an issue paper highlighting five Southern California urban water agencies’ plans to reduce their reliance on water from the Bay-Delta ecosystem and the Colorado River. If fully implemented, by 2035 these agencies could save 40 billion gallons of water per year from these over-appropriated water supplies. This substantial planned water savings demonstrates how the employment of alternative water supplies could reduce pressure on water-strapped aquatic ecosystems.

These five agencies – the City of Santa Monica, the City of Camarillo, Ventura County Water District No. 1, Long Beach Water Department, and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power - are leading the way in creating reliable water supplies for their customers by reducing the risk of future water supply shortages from the Bay-Delta and Colorado River. Further, investing in local water supply and demand solutions will allow these water agencies to:

Additionally, these reduced demands on imported water supplies could hugely benefit California’s salmon fisheries and the local fishing industries they support. That is, if this new “virtual river” of alternative water supplies is properly implemented and managed.

salmon figure.jpg

We’ve seen how the impacts of increased Delta pumping have devastated California’s salmon in the past. In 2009, Sacramento-San Joaquin Basin Chinook salmon bottomed out with a population of 41,516 naturally produced (non-hatchery) fish – only 4% of the federally mandated salmon doubling goal of 990,000!  This crash directly correlated with a 20% increase in Delta pumping between 2000 and 2006 (Chinook salmon’s 3 year life cycles mean that the impacts of in-stream salmon habitat modifications are typically seen three years later).

About Sustainable Water Supplies.pngToday, as a result of sensible limits on excessive pumping from the Delta, salmon populations are rebounding, but a three-year running average of naturally produced fish puts the population at only 22% of its target. Continued population growth will require sustained habitat improvements. Which, in turn, will lean upon increasing efficiency measures and investments in alternative water supplies – like recycling, groundwater clean-up, and stormwater harvesting - by urban water agencies across the state that rely on the Delta for water. It will also require increased agricultural water efficiency.

Happily, ambitious agency planning like that demonstrated by the City of Santa Monica and others has shown us that it’s indeed possible to shift demand away from increasingly unreliable imported water supplies through investments in local supplies and water use efficiency. In fact, doing so is expected to save Santa Monica significant money as the cost of imported water continues to rise.

California is currently developing its own long-term water management plan called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which aims to improve the reliability of the state’s water supplies while restoring the Bay-Delta estuary. A diverse coalition of water districts and municipalities, business groups, local elected officials, and environmental groups have urged California to follow the lead of the five water agencies highlighted in our issue paper by investing in local, sustainable water supply solutions. While adopting ambitious water management plans at the local level is an important first step towards decreasing demands on imported water, financial and technical support from state and federal agencies will be essential to helping water districts across the state realize the benefits of these alternative water supplies.

Click here to learn if your water district is planning for a safe and reliable future. Click here to tell Governor Brown to protect California’s rivers by investing in sustainable water supply solutions.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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