Last week, I posted this piece about Southern California Urban Water Management Plans.  Those plans show a significant trend toward investments in local supplies and reduced reliance on imported water.  That trend is likely to grow, in part because of the rising cost of imported water. 


Our analysis revealed that imported water from MWD now costs LADWP $912 per acre-foot, when all related costs are included.  This is more expensive than some conservation, recycled water and stormwater projects.  That’s nearly as expensive as the low end of desalted groundwater in the Chino basin.  (There is more data on costs in the study.)

Price is not the single determining factor today, but the rising cost of imported water is certain to continue.  In the most recent version of the Water Education Foundation’s Western Water magazine MWD General Manager Jeff Kightlinger states that “(In) the past five years, we had to basically double our rates…We’re going to have to raise rates every single year nonstop, pretty much forever, and it’s going to have to be more than inflation.”  This trend isn’t lost on water managers.  Increasingly, local water supplies are becoming cost-competitive.  They also provide local jobs, local control, water quality benefits, as well as reduced vulnerability to climate change and to the uncertainties facing the Colorado River and the Bay-Delta.  Increasingly, these tools are the smart bet for scarce ratepayer dollars.  

These new UWMPs come at an important time.  In 2009, the state legislature established a state policy of reducing reliance on water imported from the Delta.  Less than two years later, that approach is gathering momentum among Southern California agencies. 

Two years ago, a Southern California water agency board member said to me “Don’t call conservation and recycling ‘alternative supplies’.  Those aren’t alternatives.  They’re not Plan B.  Those tools are our core strategies for the future.” 

Our reviews suggest three important next steps.  First, the most forward-thinking water agencies must make the needed investments to implement their ambitious plans.  Second, other MWD member agencies should take a second look at their ability to accelerate the development of local tools.  And third, as the BDCP, the State Water Board and the Delta Stewardship Council consider the future of the Delta, the UWMPs that show how Southern California can reduce reliance on the Delta should play a major role in their thinking.