Big water importers dealt minimal cutbacks

golfGov. Jerry Brown has mandated an overall 25 percent reduction in urban water usage over the next nine months – equivalent to 1.3 million acre-feet, or enough to supply 7.8 million people.

But does Brown’s plan target where the most water can be saved or is it based on media images of water wasters?

Residents of the Palm Springs area, portrayed as water guzzlers enjoying rounds of golf amid lush landscaping, have been hit with the highest mandatory water cutbacks in the state, 36 percent.

The agencies in this area also serve hundreds of thousands of acres in farmland, and many of the golf courses use recycled water.

The Palm Springs desert area does not have a reservoir water shortage as does most of the state even though the weather is hotter. It does not directly tap northern California water reservoirs for its imported water supplies and can only save a sliver of the overall goal of 1.3 million acre-feet.

The Coachella Valley Water Agency and the Desert Water Agency, with 0.71 percent of the state population, have been asked to generate 1.46 percent of the total water reduction mandate.

By contrast, the city of Los Angeles, serving 10.1 percent of the state population — more than 12 times the combined population served by the desert agencies — would produce 2.97 percent of the water savings under Brown’s plan.

Los Angeles must cut 16 percent of its water usage under the plan.

The desert agencies do use more gallons of water per person, as much as 238 gallons per day compared to 73 gallons per day in Los Angeles.

But they also rely less on imported water.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power relies on 88 percent or 286,664 acre-feet of water per year from imported supplies. Conversely, the five water suppliers in the Coachella Valley Water Management Group rely on about 27 percent or 60,000 acre-feet of water imports per year, not including a 300,000 acre-foot allocation of Colorado River water that has not been subject to cuts.

Farmers have been exempted from Brown’s regulations because the agricultural sector has been subject to 100 percent cuts in state and federal water allocations for the past two years.

However, the Coachella agency also supplies water to 72,800 acres of farmland. It serves 120 golf courses, of which only 28 rely on imported water. The Coachella agency is shifting 43 golf courses from groundwater to recycled water.

Comparison of Water Reduction Mandates

Water Supplier Population Percent of State Population Estimated Average Gallons Water Use Per Person Per Day Water Savings Mandate Percent Total Acre-Feet of Water Saved over 9 months Percent of Water Saved of 1.3 million acre-feet Gallons of Water Reduced Per Person Per Day
LADWP 3,935,257 10.1% 73.9 16% 38,555 2.97% 11.82
275,942 0.71% 238.8
36% 18,982 1.46% 82.72

Desert Visitors Boost Consumption

Some water providers, mostly in the southern part of the state, have resisted Brown’s water cutback percentage formula, arguing that it fails to reward prior reduced water use, ignores geographic temperature differences and fails to account for areas that use mostly groundwater instead of imported water. It also does not consider that tourists who bolster the economy account for a significant share of water usage in places like the greater Palm Springs area, which has a population of almost 350,000 but sees 11.5 million visitors each year, mainly for golf tourism.

Heather Engle, director of communications and conservation for the Coachella water agency, said the Palm Springs area is not suffering as much as the rest of the state as it mostly relies on its own groundwater supplies.

“We don’t believe our customers are well served by our arguing with the (water reduction) formula,” Engle said. “We’re focusing our effort on ways to achieve the 36 percent goal.”

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