LADWP WATER SUPPLY PROJECTIONS DROP TO 1985 LEVELS
After decades of rosy water supply projections proclaiming practically limitless supply, the new 2010 Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP) is coming to terms with a long overdue reality. Water supply hasn’t grown as expected and the water supply isn’t expected to grow substantially.
Over the past twenty-five years the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has routinely offered plans in the UWMP that projected supplies well above 700,000 acre feet (AF) and in many years, at or above 800,000 AF but actual deliveries realized by the LADWP were well under averaging only 630,000 AF per year between 1988 and 2010.
The 2010 draft UWMP released January 13th profoundly lowers long term projections up to 13 percent for normal and single dry years and up to 18 percent for multiple dry years which are almost comparable to projections published back in 1985. UWMP plans from 1990 to 2005 cited exceptionally higher water supplies that were 20 percent higher than 1985 levels.
The city’s UWMP is a detailed report describing LADWP’s water infrastructure, its water sources, its current and future plans, and a projection of the next 25 years water supply. The UWMP is cited by the LADWP in their Water Supply Assessments (more on that later), and by city planners and developers when evaluating new housing projects. It’s also cited by the city’s planning department when elements of the General Plan are drawn up.
So why have projections dropped so dramatically?
In recent years there has been a growing contradiction between ‘sufficient’ water supplies regularly cited by planning documents for new developments, and the city’s strong arm tactics to force residents into conserving.
This disparity has been leading people to ask the obvious questions: Do we or do we not have enough water to sufficiently supply the residents of Los Angeles? And if water supplies are tight as the city and water department says they are, why do we continually come to the conclusion in these assessments that there are sufficient supplies?
The answers can be found in the document used to base future water supply which is the UWMP. Past UWMP’s had far and away overestimated the water department’s future projections which allowed high density development to proceed unabated. The reports overestimated how much groundwater would be available in future years; they failed to reduce those estimations by subtracting groundwater recharge using imported water purchased from Metropolitan Water Department (MWD) and they assumed that the MWD would bail them out in dry and multi-dry years if supplies were not met by local supplies and L.A.’s own aqueduct system.
In recent years the UWMP was becoming an embarrassment. The absurdity of the previous UWMP’s played out in almost comedic fashion when the projections did not meet real deliveries. This was particularly true between 2000 and 2008 when housing production and new water connections to them rose sharply. The city council was forced to approve an emergency water conservation ordinance that limited landscape watering to Monday’s and Thursdays and made it illegal to serve water in restaurants unless customers asked.
That was soon followed on nightly news with the mayor’s introduction of the LADWP Drought Busters; LADWP employees who would be given the authority to enforce the city’s strict ordinance by ticketing residents who watered on the wrong days.
In later months newscasts brought us dramatic videos almost nightly of water mains literally bursting at the seams and flooding streets throughout the city.
The folly continued until a panel of academics hired by the LADWP concluded that it was the ill-engineered ordinance limiting landscape water to two days a week that caused water mains to cycle between sudden high and low pressures and thus crack.
Then there is the damning evidence, the thirty years of data which demonstrated that for all the ink spent in past reports about increasing water supply through various schemes such as increased storage, recycled water, capturing storm water runoff, the city’s annual water deliveries would not break what has become the 700,000 AF glass ceiling.
Will the new 2010 Urban Water Management Plan’s reserved assessment offer us some relief from the aggressive development that came with the overstated assessments we have saw over the last decade?
Perhaps, and then, perhaps not. According to previous management plans, the UWMP “is only a guideline.”
The decision to provide water connections to new projects, thus manage growth is a political decision; and I might add that it’s not the result of any calculation that considers both supply and demand. With that in mind you won’t find any new verbiage in the plan that protects the community by linking development to water supply, real or projected.
If there is any relief in sight it will probably have to be the result of political pressure or a court decision.
With far lower projections in this latest plan it would not be unreasonable for residents to expect, even demand a moratorium on new developments. Water supply had dropped to dangerously low levels when projects were approved and built within the scope of the previous UWMP projections. The new UWMP has served notice; the margin of safety is gone.
Officials can’t keep ducking from reality and ignore the regions limits to water supply and then compound the problem by repeatedly approving new developments that consume more water. It’s a one-way ticket to disaster.