Category: Uncategorized

California’s Groundwater Basins

Published / by dcoffin / Leave a Comment


Interested in identifying your California Groundwater Basin? I downloaded California Department of Water Resources groundwater basin .shp file and started a mini project converting it to a .kml file and colorizing each basin so that you could view them in Google Earth.  The result is a beautiful colorful maze of groundwater basins throughout California.

Feel free to download it from the KML library link on the right side or here. You can also find an interactive map at the Groundwater Information Center.

You will need Google Earth to view it.

UWMP Comment Period Quietly Passes Unnoticed

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shutterstock_101516563In a city with nearly 4 million people, there are probably just a few dozen that even know what the Urban Water Management Plan is and even fewer that knew March 16th was the last day to comment on it.  Comments that are submitted during the public comment period are published near the end of the UWMP and for the most part go unseen by the general public and decision makers such as the LADWP Board of Commissioners, the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor who deliberate over the plan and approve it. Perhaps the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power prefers it that way.

Having watched this process in 2010 and again in 2015, I am a bit surprised and dismayed that the local print media such as the Los Angeles Times and the Daily News don’t really report on the UWMP especially given how distressed our water supply situation is. They do often report on the shortage and water wasters. A quick search of the and web sites for “urban water management plan”, I could find no evidence  that either paper had reported anything about the city’s most important planning document.

This lack of coverage by our print media on the city’s UWMP is a real disservice to its residents. It’s also a disservice to our elected officials who I found have very little understanding of the water supply figures in this document. If the media would question them on it perhaps city officials would take this process more seriously.  Elected and appointed city officials typically just approve documents like this, even seriously flawed UWMP's  without much discussion because they don’t understand it.  

The 2015 Draft UWMP is totally inadequate in its current form. It mischaracterizes the city’s true water supply outlook and needs to be rewritten to include meaningful, measurable, achievable water supply projections that planners, developers, and residents can be assured the department can meet.

As a service to our local media, I've posted my comments to the draft here. This would be a good place to start should you choose to report about the upcoming deliberations on the UWMP over the next few months.

Los Angeles Aqueduct Year End Report

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With the Water Year ending last September, this is a look at the Los Angeles Aqueduct supplies from 1975 to 2015. Most of the hard reductions were due to Courts ordering the LADWP to permanently release water back into the Mono and Owens Basins between 1985 and 2007 . The last three years have been due primarily to the State's drought. Hopefully that will rebound back to the new normal of 210,000 to 220,000 AF levels over the next year or two.


LADWP’s Paper Water Leverages on MWD Supplies

Published / by dcoffin / Leave a Comment

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.   

MWD Makes up for LADWP Paper Water

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.  

LADWP 2015 Report Card on UWMP Projections

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With the close of the 2015 water year last September, it's time to step back and take a look at how well the LADWP met its first five year projections that came from the 2010 Urban Water Management Plan. EIR's winding their way through the planning department use this data to presumably assure us that there will be sufficient water supply in 5, 10, 15, and 20 years into the future.

So how did the 2010 UWMP fare in its first five years? Did the department meet their total supply projections? Did they meet the groundwater, recycle, transfers and stormwater projections? What does this mean for the new 2015 UWMP that is being drafted today and soon be released for public comment?

Let's take a look and compare this years water deliveries to the last two UWMP's.

  • A Look at the Total Supply

The following two charts show us the total supply entering the LADWP water supply system which includes all of the categories mentioned above.

All Sources - 2005 All Sources - 2010

It's not pretty. In both charts we find that the department has not been meeting the supply projections that EIR's routinely cite in the planning documents assuring the city of sufficient supplies. Supply levels are far below both the 2005 and 2010 UWMP projections and trending down. The failure to meet these projections while planning departments continue to green-light projects contributes heavily to the city's water shortage.

The next sections will tell us where the department is falling short in the city's water supply portfolio.

  • Source: Aqueduct

Having already been battered in 2013 and 2014, its hard to imagine the Los Angeles Aqueduct deliveries getting worse but it did. 2015 turned out far worse for the aqueduct as it's deliveries fell to a mere 31,766 AF for the entire year. As a point of reference, 25,000 AF would normally be considered an 'average month' prior to 2000.

The city's aqueduct is the largest city owned contributor to the city's water supply portfolio but in April, May and June it fell behind even recycled water! EIR's circulating through the city's planning department assured planners that by 2015 the city would be receiving 252,000 AF of aqueduct water each year.

Aqueduct 2005-2010GW1

Clearly the weather pattern over the Eastern Sierras in the last three years has had an effect on the aqueduct supply as it has averaged just 58,000 AF/y, but even if the department had maintained the 2000-2012 average supply levels, it would still be below the departments long term projections.

Aqueduct Grade: F

  • Source: Groundwater

Groundwater is the city's second largest city owned contributor to the water supply portfolio. After decades of consistently missing supply projections and losing what credibility it could have earned, the LADWP was forced to lower its projections by reducing it's groundwater projections by 62 percent. Having done that, for the first time in 16 years the department actually came out ahead in 2015.  

But we can't get too excited. The department's average production since 2000 was just 74,000 acre feet per year which is far less than the assurances found in EIR's stating that the LADWP will produce an average yield of 96,000 acre feet per year by 2020 and climb to over 110,000 AF/y.  Groundwater production is not a reliably consistent year-to-year source of supply when pumping exceeds the San Fernando basin's average recharge rate. One or more years of heavy pumping have to be followed by several years of reduced pumping to allow for the basin to recharge.

Groundwater Supply Grade: D

  • Source: Recycle

While the LADWP projected gains for recycled water in the ten's of thousands of acre-feet, it's success over the past two decades could only be measured in the hundreds of acre-feet.  EIR's circulating through the city's planning department over the last five years assured planners that by 2015, recycled water would be contributing 20,000 acre-feet per year to the city's portfolio.  However, the department didn't even come close with just ~9,800 AF entering the system. This year we found that the missed its 2010 UWMP 5 year milestone by over 50 percent. 

2005-2010RCY 2010TR

Past UWMP's regularly projected that the department would produce over 30,000 AF/y and the latest 2010 plan raised this further promising planners 59,000 Af/y by 2035. The chance of this happening is as remote as seeing the department replace all its aging water mains by 2035.

The Department of Water Resources says that if utilities can't access water they say they have access to, this is called paper water.

Recycled Water Grade: D

  • Source: Transfers

EIR's circulating through the city's planning department assured planners that by 2015, water transfers of 40,000 acre feet each year would be contributing to the city's supply portfolio.  The department constructed the $40 million Neenach Pumping Station Turnout Facility Project in the Antelope Valley to facilitate transfers of water from the Central Valley and Northern California but no sellers were found, no contracts were signed and the promised 40,000 AF never entered the system.

'Transfers' are sales of water rights between one entity to another. To effect a transfer the city would have to find willing sellers such as water agencies or farms with surplus water and sign contracts for 40,000 AF/y of water.

LADWP's Transfers certainly falls under the definition of paper water.

Interestingly, LADWP's entry into the water market puts it in direct competition with its main provider of imported water, the Metropolitan Water District.

Transfers - Grade: F

  • Storm Water Capture

Storm Water Capture is composed of two subcategories of water, Harvesting (Rain Barrels & Cisterns) and 'Increased Groundwater Production'. Of the two, that later is not scheduled to produce water until 2020.

Since the department created this category of water, EIR's have been assuring city planners that Harvesting will reduce the city's demand by 2,000 AF by 2015.

The problem with this category of water is that it never enters the city's water system and thus cannot be certifiably measured.  This creates doubt to whether the 2,000 acre feet per year is real water or just paper water. When LADWP managers were questioned about this they admitted that they do not have the ability to physically measure this water and would instead rely solely on models.

I have serious doubts that models could withstand a legal test in courts if an EIR were challenged because there is no way of knowing how many of the rain barrels were distributed, how many are actually being used or repurposed and how much water they actually captured. Furthermore, it would take 11 million rain barrels to store 2,000 AF of water that roughly amounts to 27 rain barrels per single family household.  

I firmly place Harvesting in the category of paper water. 

Harvesting - Grade: F

2005-2010STRM 2005-2010CV
  • Source: Conservation

EIR's circulating through the city's planning department assured planners that by 2015, the city would be receiving 8,178 acre feet of water per year categorized as Conservation.  However, Conservation is not a source. Water supply entering the city water system cannot be counted twice. New water comes into the city system as groundwater, recycled water, or imported water through the aqueduct and MWD.

When residents make a concerted effort to conserve and the resulting savings is redirected elsewhere, this doesn’t add to the supply, it merely stretches out the supply or allows it to be re-allocated to other uses such as new construction. Double-dipping is not a legal accounting method.

If the LADWP wants to demonstrate to the public how much the savings is made by conserving, it needs to put this on the demand side of the equation by reducing the gallons per capita daily. Until then this is just another form of paper water.

Conservation - Grade: No grade. Not a supply

  • Summary

Given how important it is to meet the assurances that planning documents such as Environmental Impact Reports cite, we would have to assign an 'F' grade to the LADWP for failing to meet its own water supply projections.   

One might think today that the city's shortage is just a recent phenomena, it isn't. Here is what the LADWP's updated record looks like going back to 1990.


Meeting Supplies cited in EIR's - Grade: F


How Much Paper Water Costs

Published / by dcoffin / Leave a Comment

WSACoverCan you buy paper water? Absolutely.

Today the LADWP sent out an agenda for an upcoming meeting of the LADWP Board of Commissioners.  One of the agenda items on it was the NoHo West project Water Supply Assessment with a recommendation by LADWP Water Systems section for the Board to approve it. Like other WSA's this one is no different. The requirement for a water supply assessment comes from the California's 'Show Me the Water' legislation. This WSA like the other LADWP water supply assessments fails to do that.

Most urban water agencies like the LADWP have upended SB-610 and turned it into a pay to play permit that offers paper water to help approve projects for a fee. For $17,000 the department will produce a report full of Imaginary Water that will get your project approved. 

At that price you should expect a very elaborate highly detailed report but in reality the LADWP provides a little more than 20 pages of analysis along with 160 pages of poorly rendered photocopies that have little relevance to the projects analysis except for what the city Planning department provides. That comes out to about $800 a page. The rest of the report is primarily a crude cut and paste job that offers no extra insight to the water supply for decision makers to base their decision on.

If we break down the NoHo West WSA into simple little segments it goes like this:

The first 21 pages of the WSA goes on to describe the 742 unit project that's also full of retail and office space. It estimates how much water demand the project will impose on the city and it feigns on how much the extra conservation the LADWP was able to negotiate out of the developer to reduce demand. Not surprisingly it ends with a conclusion that this projects 298 Af/y is accounted for in the City's 2010 Urban Water Management Plan even though its not. This is essentially where the analysis ends.

At page 22 the department inserts twenty pages of stale, highly inaccurate supply projections into the report and goes on to describe the city's water supply infrastructure, environmental constraints and conservation measures. All of this information is already available in the City's UWMP.  

At page 51 the department inserts a letter from the City Planning Department that makes the request for the WSA. The Planning Department letter actually has more original material in the WSA than what LADWP contributes for its part.

At page 67 the department then inserts a few letters from the developers agent describing the various proposed alternatives for the project are inserted into the WSA.

$17,000 would seem to be an outrageous amount of money if it just ended there. So here the LADWP stuffs in a bunch of over copied, poorly rendered filler that adds little value to fatten up the report another 101 pages. None of this extra information provides anything useful for assessing whether the project might be an undue burden to the city's residents or if there really is sufficient water supply. In fact it may be a distraction meant to discourage the reader from seriously reading it and asking further questions during the approval process.

In this section we find what might be the most copied court judgement ever, the City's groundwater adjudication which claims what rights the city has to San Fernando Groundwater Basin. This document has little relevance to the NoHo West project. Its presence serves to give the reader the impression that the department has its act together even though it failed miserably in delivering what groundwater it claims it has to the city residents.

Then we get to page 88 for the obligatory piece of CA water code that requires retail water agencies like the LADWP to produce a water supply assessment for projects that are 500 units or larger just in case those projects are not accounted for in the city's UWMP. Despite the legislations name however, the LADWP doesn't really show us or the Board of Commissioners any water. Just paper water.

Then we get to the biggest chunk of this cut and paste job because the report is still pretty thin. The Metropolitan Water District should get royalties on these 86 pages each time it shows up in a WSA. Oddly, this half of the WSA's 180 pages comes from the very agency the City says it doesn't need much anymore and it's going cut 50% of its purchases from. The MWD contribution is guaranteed to put any bureaucrat asleep since it's mostly devoted to bond money and negotiations with other water agencies to keep our reservoirs full. They are full aren't they?  

Despite the $17,000 price tag, it's money well spent for the projects developer. Even after two and a half decades of falling water supplies and emergency drought ordinances, that $17,000 buys them confidence that the LADWP will identify just enough paper water to usher their project through.  How good is that!


L.A.’s History of Paper Water

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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.
Chart showing the gap between actual supply the city receives and anticipated supply projected in each UWMP.

L.A.’s Paper Water Problem

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Part IV in a series describing L.A.’s water supply problems, the drought and the policies that produced it. L.A.'s PAPER WATER Urban Water Management Plans of 1990, 1995, 2000, & 2005 had all projected huge demand requirements and provided us with solutions on how it would met. However, as each superseding UWMP was approved, it left behind a growing legacy of plans with a history of projections that were never met. faucetOver time, it became apparent that this is not simply a miscalculation but likely an intentional effort by the city to mislead the public using ‘paper water’. Paper water is water that utilities claim they have access to, but is difficult or impossible to access for various reasons. You can't drink paper water or cook with it but you can make lots of promises with it. The 2009 California Water Plan Update describes such a scenario in an article titled Water for Growth (E. Hanak/PPIC) stating that "A majority of utilities reported considerable normal-year surpluses, both now and 20 years hence, raising the possibility that many are banking on “paper water” for their margin of comfort." Generally the City of Los Angeles hides its supply shortage behind promises of water that it could never actually deliver on such as groundwater, recycled water and LA Aqueduct water. Large Projects One very typical example where paper water was cited would be the massive Playa Vista development that was approved in the early 2000's. The project's water demand which was based on the 2000 UWMP stated: "LADWP anticipates annual water demand within the Department’s service area to increase by 2010 to between 718,000 AF (in a normal year) and 761,000 AF (in a dry year), which represents a demand increase of 5.7 percent to 12.1 percent, respectively, between 2002 and 2010.
Fig 1 - Projected Supply v. Actual Supply
This increased demand in water use is accounted for in LADWP’s Final Year 2000 Urban Water Management Plan Update, and LADWP has identified various means and options for securing adequate water supplies to meet the needs anticipated for 2010, as well as through the year 2020. Ref: EIR No. ENV-2002-6129-EIR" However the anticipated annual supply of 718,000 AF never materialized by 2010 nor did the 757,000 AF promised by 2015 as shown in Figure 1 at the right. In 2010 the city water supply was 25% below the projection cited in the Playa Vista EIR at just 540,229 AF and it fell even further behind by 2015. The average yearly supply of 617,645 af/y between 2000 and 2014 was 23% below the projections 2015 projection. Neither aqueduct water, groundwater or recycled water projections were met. The promise of up to 799,000 af/y of water cited in this EIR is what we would call ‘paper water’. It's this promise of water that contributed to the approval of the project but it was water that can never be had.
Fig 2 - The 2000 UWMP's Paper Water
This particular development is not an isolated situation. Literally every project in the city that has been approved since 1990 cites the inaccessible water in the city's UWMP. Prior and subsequent UWMP's also projected supply levels that could not be achieved. The 2005 water plan cited 705,000 AF this year and up to 776,000 AF by 2030. Even the current 2010 UWMP has similarly projected supplies in excess of 710,000 AF by 2035. The City of Los Angeles has not been able to produce water supplies in excess of 690,000 AF since 1989. Smaller Projects Benefit by Paper Water Large projects with 500 units or more are required by SB-221 to obtain written verification that long term water supply is available for the project. This written verification goes into a tedious analysis of the projects demand and then always comes to the conclusion based on the UWMP's paper water that "adequate water supplies would be available to meet the estimated water demands of the proposed developments..." The thousands of smaller projects with 499 units or less that are winding their way through the planning process are exempt from this formality.  They need only cite the current UWMP which includes all existing and planned future uses of the city's water supply then come to the same conclusion that "that adequate water supplies would be available to meet the estimated water demands of the proposed developments..." To date, literally every project approved since 1990, both small and large projects alike have been the beneficiary of paper water but it hasn't benefited residents. Paper Water may be Political Cover The city's most recent 2010 UWMP greatly lowered projections but that had not stopped or slowed down the approvals of large or small projects alike. The reason why could be found in a statement made by the DWP back in 1990 saying that approving projects is ultimately a "political decision to be decided by the Mayor and the City Council".  So it's likely that the water departments insistence on such large water supply projections year after year is to provide political cover to for approving all of the developments making their way through the planning process. In the 2009 California Water Update, the article Water For Growth alludes to that by noting "...even in jurisdictions with municipal water departments, elected officials may take a shorter-term view of resource adequacy than area residents do. If—as is often asserted—land-use authorities are aligned with predevelopment forces, they may be inclined to favor growth, even if it means higher costs (or a loss in property values) to the community down the road."  
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