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Water Policy Southern California

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Abstract

Southern California always tries to manage one of the most important natural resources, water. Several years of dry weather have depleted the reservoirs and groundwater basins. It is absolutely surprising to hear that water in Southern California has to be imported from far away. And this fact definitely influences the cost. The rates are between $15 and up to $900 per AF. That is why the need for reliable water supplies increases. The same happens with the cost. This paper presents the possible alternatives that might help to meet the demand for water supply in the next 20 years. The paper discusses the usage of water desalination and water recycling as possible and effective methods to be applied to a demand-supply gap.

Keywords: Southern California, recycling, desalination, acre-foot (AF), groundwater.

Water Policy Southern California

According to Norris Hundley, California of the late 1990s and early 2000s upholds more than 34 million residents. This fact makes it the most populous state and stands for its subsistence on massive hydraulic works which move huge amounts of water from areas of relative abundance, both within and outside the state, to areas of relative scarcity. Generally speaking, Californians are nowadays using much more water than the amount of water that will be available on a long-term basis. It is widely-hailed that it lacks 1.6 million acre-feet per year and this number can rise to more than 5.1 million AF during the years of drought (p. 2). The situation with water is quite poor in Southern California. Up to 20 million people need water and it is imported hundreds of miles away, across deserts, mountains and valleys. Sometimes people in Southern California do not realize that water which flows freely from their taps has to go a long way from Sierra Nevada Mountains. This water actually travels 444 miles from Northern California (Aquafornia). Southern California is generally drier than Beirut. But people there have green lawns and even gold courses. Despite all of these facts this area has enough water to satisfy the population of the second largest metropolis in the USA. An intricate system of various aqueducts, pipes and dams delivers water to Southern California. Water is transported even from the upper watershed of the Feather River in Northern California, situated 700 miles away. Another branch extends to as much as 1.400 miles up to the Colorado River and to its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains (Carle, p. 14). Generally speaking, the region receives the water from a number of sources. The first source gives 35% of supply and these are groundwater sources. The rest is taken from the Owens Valley, the abovementioned Colorado River and by the State Water project. The only wholesaler of groundwater is the Metropolitan Water District. It also works with water which is imported from the Colorado River as well as from the State Water Project. The water is sold to 26 agencies (Aquafornia). These agencies are known to be among the most aggressive agencies that want to reduce pre capita water use. They are using special strategy which is known as ‘increasing block rates’. This strategy requires charging higher rates for greater quantities consumed. In 2003 almost two-thirds of the Californian’s South Coast had to pay the increased rates. That is why the residents of Southern California have consumed less water in 2005 as compared to a decade ago. And this is true even with 2, 4 million additional residents (Hanak, p. 7). Southern California is the most populated and the most urbanized region. More than 50% of California’s population lives there despite the fact that the area receives less than 2 % of state’s rain precipitation (Carle, p. 78). It is understandable that the cost of water is high. The least expensive water goes for agricultural usage. One acre-foot (1,230 m2) will cost $15. On the other hand, the most expensive water is desalinated seawater. However, this might be an alternative which can help to meet the future demands for water. Such water will cost $800-$900 per AF. However, most water comes from the Metropolitan Water District and the cost is $371-$478 per AF. But the actual cost will be different as it depends on the type of service and the cost of water delivery to the paricular location. If we look at figures, we will see that an average water cost for residents was $905 in 2005. That cost has already included the delivery and the service charges. The fact is that an average residential user requires approximately 490 m2 of water annually. In 2003-2006 an average residential user had to pay more since a monthly fee for 150 cubic foot increased from $30.33 to $36.39. During the three-year period there was a total 17% price increase (Hamer, p. 491). However, the cost of local ground water is much lower. This water is often pumped for farming usage and the price varies from $40 to $60 per AF. The price is low as the water does not require to be transported in most cases. The only cost here is the pumping cost and it is governed by the cost of power used. In recent years, technological changes and improvements have caused the costs for desalination of the sea water to decline. According to the Orange County Water District the costs for a large-scale desalination plant are approximately $900 to $1200 per AF. Generally speaking, the West and Central Basin Municipal Water Districts operate a desalination test program. They believe that the cost of seawater desalination will be about $900 per AF. However, something should be done to encourage desalination. That is why Metropolitan has offered a subsidy of $250 per AF for up to 50,000 AF annually. This will definitely reduce the cost to as much as $650 per AF (Hamer, p. 491). Anyway, desalination is counted to be one of the possible alternatives to meet the growing demand of water supply. The general public believes that seawater desalination is an ultimate technological help for the water supply due to 2,000 miles of ocean and bay coastline. They are the main factors as Southern California has a good position for desalination. As a matter of fact, a lot of experts believe that due to new technologies it will become inexpensive and it will banish most water shortages and controversies (Hanak, p. 12). The fact is that only brackish water might be used for desalination. is the salt concentration in this water is 30% less than in ocean water. There are a number of situations when desalination becomes very useful. First of all, it is useful in urban areas that are isolated from the general supply network. And secondly, this method becomes highly useful when those urban areas depend on imported water (Hanak, p. 12). However, experts say that it is very unlikely that desalination will be widely used and become the main water source for Southern California. The crucial fact is that it poses environmental challenge and can damage the environment to a huge extent. The environmental challenges include trapping of marine life at intakes, as well as disposal of brine by-product. Moreover, a lot of energy is needed  in the process of desalination. And as it requires high energy use, it is extremely expensive. Researchers believe that even despite technological advances, the cost of desalination will remain high, that is why it is very unlikely that this method will be used for urban usage or for agriculture (Hanak, 12). It is estimated that 19 additional facilities will be constructed by 2030. This will result in additional 507 AF per year (Water Supply, p. 15). It is estimated by CATFED Financial Plan that desalination targets over the next 10 years will be met approximately by 25 percent of federal and state funding and 75 percent of local agencies and organizations (Water Supply, p. 2). Another alternative which might be used to help protect the environment, on the one hand, and meet the demands, on the other hand, is water recycling and the usage of recycled water. According to the program of water recycling, municipal, domestic and agricultural water will be reclaimed and reused. Some people are afraid to use such water but it can be used for different purposes. The example might be ecosystem restoration or groundwater recharge. Southern Californian’s water agencies reclaim nearly 500 AF of wastewater every year. Scientists promise that by 2030 it will be possible to gain 1,100 AF of additional water annually. However, this method provides additional water only to those regions where it can be discharged into the ocean or any salt sink. The approximate estimated general cost for the range of potential recycling by 2030 is about $7 billion. The actual cost will vary depending on the quality of the wastewater, the level of treatment that will be required and the availability of a distribution system. Scientists believe that the majority of recycled water supplies will cost beetween $300 and $ 1,300 per AF (Water Supply, p. 14). Lastly, we might say that reclaimed water is becoming an increasing source of supply even now. Reclaimed municipal wastewater is being sold for a variety of non-portable uses, primarily landscape irrigation. For example, if we take Coachella Valley, we will see that reclaimed water is sold by the Desert Water Agency for 50% of the portable water cost. This is approximately $150 per AF. In Orange County, reclaimed water is sold by the Irvine Ranch Water District for 10 to 20% less than potable water (Hamer, pp. 491-492). The CALFED Finance Plan estimates that recycling targets over the next years will be met by approximately 25 % of state and federal funding and 75% of local agencies and organizations funding (Water Supply, p. 2). It is widely known that the best option is to maintain balance between the supply and the required demand. The researches, however, show that the demand for water will definitely exceed the available supply and that is why the cost will be significantly higher (Hamer, p. 497). It is quite understandable that with an increase in population and the increasing demand for local and imported water, the cost of water will definitely continue to rise. That is why Southern Californians have a long history of various innovative approaches to meet water supply challenges. These methods include different conjunctive usage of surface and groundwater as well as sea water intrusion barriers to protect aquifers and the usage of water desalination. Due to creative solutions water use efficiency is improved, while reliable cost-effective long term water supplies are provided. The existing and future gap between Southern California’s water supply and demand is substantial and that is why a variety of projects and water management actions could be used to fill this supply-demand gap. It is absolutely obvious that Southern California is obliged to use the variety of innovations and embrace them in its policy to bring enough water to support its growing population. Southern California also supposed to pay a lot of attention to environment and the economy. That is why they have to raise the level of conservation, expand water storage and start to use water recycling systems and desalination water plants. 

Summary

Southern California has a very complicated and delicate water transportation system. A lot of factors and stressors influence this system that is why it is so vulnerable and unstable. There are sources which provide Southern California with water. These are groundwater sources, imports from Owens Valley, the Colorado River, and the State Water Project. The price of imported water is high. And by the way, water is a limited resource. It is wise to maintain the balance between the users of this resource. These are residents, agriculture and the environment. That is why Southern California has to search for possible and effective alternatives which will be able to meet the constantly rising demand for water. The possible solution might be general cooperation, various local innovations and development of new infrastructures. Among the possible alternatives are the recycled water usage and desalination of seawater. However, according to calculations, desalination is the most expensive process. Desalination is a water treatment process whereby salt is removed from seawater, brackish or saline water, groundwater, or wastewater so that water is available for usage. That is why the cost of one acre-foot is between $900 and $1200. However, a special subsidy has been offered to encourage the usage of desalinated water. This subsidy reduces the cost to $650 per AF. Another alternative is reclaimed or recycled water. Currently it is becoming an increasing source of supply. Water recycling is the program to reclaim and reuse municipal, industrial, domestic and agricultural wastewater. It can also include recycle of impaired groundwater and surface water. The reclaimed water is sold for 50 percent of portable water cost. And that is $150 per AF. Southern California needs to continue using various innovative approaches to meet water supply challenges and demands. The growth of population will provoke greater demands for available water supplies. The climate can also pose a challenge to available water sources. That is why any creative solution will help increase water use efficiency, while providing reliable cost-effective long-term water supplies at the same time.

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