When the LADWP uses paper water, not only does it affect Los Angeles residents, it also impacts utilities and residents outside of the city. 'Paper water' is water that “utilities claim they have access to, but is difficult or impossible to access for various reasons”.
When the LADWP claims to have access to more city owned domestic water than it really has access to, that allows the department to understate how much water it needs from the Metropolitan Water District.
Using paper water to prop up the perception of its domestic supply, the 2000 UWMP* suggested that the LADWP would only need to purchase and additional 3.53 million acre-feet of water between 2000 and 2015.
However the department was unable to follow through on its claims. Only 4 times in 16 years did the department meet its own projections. Over the other years it had to purchase 47% more water from the MWD amounting to 5.20 million acre-feet at a greater unit cost.
This is one of the ways that the department hides the water shortage in the EIR's that work their way through the planning process to shield development.
Obviously this practice would impact the MWD's operations to store surplus water as a hedge against drought in its Diamond Valley Reservoir and at Lake Mead.
*I used the 2000 UWMP because it presented a larger sample size of MWD purchases than later plans would. Later UWMP's use paper water similarly.
Construction projects going through the city permit process are required to cite how much water demand they will impose on the city's water supply and whether the city has surplus water supplies to accommodate the project.
This information is provided in the EIR (Environmental Impact Report) which is part of the permit package for the project. The EIR's have a section on 'Utilities' stating where this surplus water will come from. As evidence of sufficient surplus water, the EIR's refer you to the city's current UWMP as evidence. The UWMP also describes how it will meet demand should there be a shortages of city owned water. When water shortages occur the city's water plans state that they have access to MWD supplies that will meet the city's level of demand.
The chart below shows us that despite the UWMP's guarantee that the Metropolitan Water District will be able to provide sufficient water supply in dry years, the DWP has not been able to meet that guarantee since MWD supplies have come up short of the projections every year since 1990.
The deficit the city finds itself in is a result of this gap. Because this has been allowed to occur for twenty five years and never corrected in each subsequent UWMP, we have to assume that these statements in the UWMP assuring that MWD will meet demand are mainly intended to facilitate approvals and nothing more. As such, it is a planned deficit.
Where does the city's water go? This chart shows us how much water is used in each of the city's consumer classes between 1985 and 2014*. Since 2007 single-family residential demand has fallen from 261,530 Af to 208,678 Af. Multi-family residential has fallen from 187,059 to 169,192. More importantly, Residential per capita has fallen from 106 gallons per capita daily to 86.
*Supply shown in 'water years' (October thru September).
The City of Los Angeles water plans in the past have projected significant amounts of water that later never came. These large sums of water have been used to approve small and large projects going back to 1990.
When projects are reviewed by city planners, the figures cited in the city's water plans are supposed to assure the community that there is sufficient water for the project over the next 20 to 25 years after they are approved and that the project will not pose a burden to the city's water supply during that period.
Over a 24 year period, this missing water would be equivalent to 4.35 million acre feet which is slightly more than a full years worth of California Aqueduct water at full allocation.
This graph shows the City of Los Angeles's history of 'paper water' since 1990 and the actual amount of water it has been able to obtain. Paper water is the gap between what the city anticipated it would need for it future growth versus the amount of water it actually received. The projections appear in the city's Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP) which is published and approved by the city council every five years.
The city uses paper water along with real water to demonstrate that it has sufficient water supplies for the thousands of medium and high density projects going through the planning process. As time goes by however the city has not been able to access that water which has created a severe deficit resulting in a drought. Despite not having access to this water, each new water plan continues to anticipate levels of water supplies that it clearly has no access to.
Residents caught in the middle of this vicious drought/growth cycle and have been forced pay for this policy with higher utility prices, enforcement actions, and lower property values.