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.
In the most recent Water Board Water Conservation Report showing the state's June 2015 conservation, LADWP has been revising population figures presumably to keep the Residential gallons per capita daily (R-GPCD) level from getting out of control. They are now estimating monthly population growth and using each months figures to calculate residential water use.
I was surprised they kept using the 3,935,257 figure from month to month since leaving the population number where it was would have artificially raised the R-GPCD while population and demand increased. The screen shot from the report shows the department's estimates that the city has grown by 55,089 residents in last twelve months (or roughly 19,674 new units1 constructed) while it has been losing water supply.
RHNA forces cities to identify properties that are suitable for development for the number of units they are allocated for. Despite the 7 year long water deficit the city has been fighting, the increasing population numbers that the LADWP is providing is a result of the California's RHNA requirement. If a developer wants to build on a property identified in the Housing Element (a RHNA requirement), the city can't say no by state law unless the UWMP or WSA is successfully challenged.
Any gains being made by residents to recover from the drought (turf removal, limiting landscaping watering days, low flow toilets, high efficiency washers, etc.) to increase storage levels and reserves are simply wiped out the state and city planning process.
12013-2021 Los Angeles Housing Element reports average of 2.8 inhabitants per dwelling unit.
This would require some creative thinking by the department pie charts in past water plans cited only four sources of supply that make up the city's water supply which were the LA Aqueduct, Groundwater, MWD, and Recycled water.
In the 2010 UWMP the department settled on three new sources. Two of these sources were 'Conservation' and ‘Stormwater Capture’. The third will be discussed at a later date.
To date, five years after they were announced, neither of these sources have been measured and reported to the city’s Board of Water and Power Commissioners in its monthly reports so this information is not made public. Without reporting this, there is no way to independently verify the claims made in UWMP's and Water Supply Assessments. The reasons they are not reported should be apparent as we discuss them below.
CONSERVATION – As described in the 2010 UWMP, conservation is a “continuation of rebates, incentives, promoting new technologies and reduced outdoor water use.”
There is a problem with this description however in that it is not ‘new’ water. Conservation is not a source of supply that contributes 'new' water to the 700,000 Af/y supply which the LADWP says will grow to by 2030. It merely stretches out water that was already been counted as new water. This is essentially a form of double-dipping so it should be treated as paper water.
When individuals use less water for any of the reasons described above 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.
'Conservation’ doesn't show up on monthly reports to the Board of Commissioners because it is not new water, and it can’t be precisely measured. Furthermore, whatever figure can be estimated it would have to show up as a credit which would help lower the city’s projected annual demand. If the department lowered the projection then it would not show a growing water supply which would presumably make WSA’s a harder sell.
STORMWATER CAPTURE – The ‘Stormwater capture’ supply is divided into two sub-categories that together, the department claims will produce 25,000 Af/y of water. These sub-categories are ‘Increased Groundwater Production’ and ‘Capture and Reuse (Rainwater harvesting)’.
In the first sub-category,Increased Groundwater Production is a source that the department says will produce 15,000 Af/y of new water. LADWP is rehabilitating and increasing the capacity of its spreading grounds that will result in the increased groundwater production. When stormwater is captured, it is directed towards spreading grounds where the water percolates or is pumped into the ground for storage and later pumped out as groundwater pumping. This new water adds to the supply and can be measured as stormwater enters the spreading grounds.
However, because these figures do not show up on monthly reports to the Board of Commissioners, there is no way to verify if the department is meeting its 15,000 Af/y targets and until that is done, this claim should be treated as paper water.
In the next sub-category, Capture and Reuse (Harvesting) is a source that is divided between rain barrels and cisterns. The department claims that Rain barrels will contribute 2,000 Af/y and up to 10,000 Af/y in 2035 to the supply. This figure is highly suspect at best because it can't be measured and it includes a lot of assumptions that makes reaching the goal unlikely.
The department sets up a scenario to assuming 400,000 residents will have a rain barrel sitting aside a 500 square foot roof located in an area where it rains an average of 15” per year. How they come up with 2,000 Af/y is anyone's guess. You would need 11 million rain barrels to store 2,000 AF which is 651,702,000 gallons. However, the bottom line is this cannot be verified. With no gages, no monitoring and no reporting, the department shouldn't be touting it as a supply. Treat this as paper water.
The department is even more vague about cisterns which function like rain barrels but are a much larger. The scenario the department sets up to collect 8,000 Af/y is simply that they will be sited ‘on-site for schools and governments only’. It doesn’t say how many cisterns are needed or how large they are and it doesn't say where they will be located. Here again, no gages, no monitoring and no monthly reporting to the board. Trust us seems to be the prevailing message for the Harvesting sub-category so this should be treated as paper water.
In summary, only half of the Stormwater Capture supply (higher capacity spreading grounds) can be considered new water which adds to the city's water supply. The other half (harvesting) can't be measured for participation and effectiveness so it falls into the category of paper water. And with Conservation, this is another example of paper water since it also does not add to the water supply.
To be credible, UWMP’s and water supply assessments must be based on reliably collected data from all of the historical supplies they cite as sources. Trust us isn’t good enough.
In a recent article I wrote that California's biggest danger to water reliability isn't the lack of dams or groundwater, it was the State's growth policy that's forces city's to build. In its drive to produce housing to meet a desktop analysis that says the state will grow to ~51 million people, the state uses a little known legislative law called RHNA that 'tells cities' throughout the state how many units they must provide for. The cities must then answer in response by identifying properties (and even re-zone to allow for higher densities) where developers can build those units if the properties become available on the market.
Recently a news article listed Nine California cities running out of water. Most of them are in the central valley where it is especially bad. To emphasis how disconnected the State's RHNA process to the water challenges that cities face, I've provided is a list of those nine cities along with the number of units each city's is allocated to provide for and a rough estimate1 on how much water will be needed to support those units should they be built out.
On one hand each of theses cities are confronted with a huge water deficit resulting in an unreliable water supply and on the other hand the State is pushing them to increase housing in places where its no longer practical. Literally RHNA is running cities out of water. The housing allocations are running up water demand to the point where cities have insufficient supplies.
Between the 2006/2013 and 2014/2021 RHNA allocations, the City of Los Angeles has had to identify properties that could be developed for 194,000 units.
In the most recent Water Board Water Conservation Report, LADWP has been revising population figures presumably to keep the Residential-GPCD level from getting out of control. They are now projecting monthly population growth and using each months figures to calculate residential water use. The screen shot from the report shows the city has projected that it has grown by 55,089 residents while the water supply has dropped.
RHNA forces cities to identify properties that are suitable for development for the number of units they are allocated for. Despite the 7 year long water deficit the city has been fighting, the increasing population numbers that the LADWP is providing is a result of the California's RHNA requirement. If a developer want to build on a property identified in the Housing Element (a RHNA requirement), the city can't say no.
In a previous article I wrote that The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power was confronted with two conflicting demands that dates back to 1990. The department’s conflict is between providing enough water to city residents from a rapidly shrinking water supply that once averaged 680,000 Af/y and is now just over 610,000 Af/y and then also show evidence that the city’s water supply is growing to assure continued growth.
By now most of the public is well aware that there is a water shortage and that the DWP has been furiously trying to reduce the city’s residential per capita consumption by bombarding the media with accounts of shortages, imposing emergency drought restrictions, ‘drought shaming’ residents into using as little water as possible, and even paying them to tear out lawns and substitute it with drought resistant landscaping.
What the public is not aware of is that the LADWP puts on a very different face when it comes to assessing demand and assuring water supply for large new projects that consume the equivalent of 500 units or more in its Water Supply Assessments also known as WSA’s. Performing a water supply assessment is required by state law for very large projects and the department has produced more than seventy of them since 2005.
You need water? We got the water! Step Right in line.
The DWP’s water assessments are akin to a Hollywood movie set whose front facing facades of old western towns look like the real thing but when you step through a door all you find is an empty lot.
Read through a WSA and you’ll be transported into a parallel world where there’s plenty of surplus water to support a projects demand for the next twenty years along with all the other planned future demand that don’t trigger water supply assessments. But look behind the report at the actual supply figures and you’ll find that like the old western town on the big screen, the WSA is a mere facade as well.
Let’s take a recent example of the large 1,444 unit downtown SOLA Village project that the LADWP recently recommended to the Board or Water and Power for approval. Keeping in mind that the City of Los Angeles is already reeling from a water shortage and has been since 1990, the DWP’s Water Resources Section concluded in the projects water supply assessment that “adequate water supplies will be available to meet the total additional water demand” and that the demand “can be met during normal, single-dry, and multi-dry water years” for the next 20 years!
The department came to this conclusion by citing water demand and supply forecasts from its own current Urban Water Management Plan. A practice that is allowed by the state but should bring to question the sincerity to the laws “Show Me the Water” hype.
The city’s past water plans have always claimed to have access to amazing amounts of water but in reality its water that can never be delivered or touched. You’ll never be able to wash your hands with it or sip it from a glass. Its imaginary water destined only for the pages of WSA's and UWMP's that are used to approve projects by decision makers.
For instance, supporting the SOLA Village project, the WSA cites that over the next twenty years the department will be able to build up recycled water supplies “eight-fold” to an amazing 59,000 Af/y by 2035. The problem however is that they’ve made similar claims to this in every preceding water plan going back to 1990!
The 2010 and 2005 plans that are routinely cited in the city's WSA’s both stated that we would be enjoying 20,000 Af/y of recycled water by 2015! In reality though, we’ve only seen an average of 7,392 Af/y since 2005 and we missed the 2015 target by 13,000 AF or 4.2 billion gallons.
Touching on another source of water, the SOLA Village WSA goes on to claim that stormwater capture will increase the water supply by 25,000 AF. Stormwater capture while not new, has been getting a lot of press attention lately when it was singled out by the city as a promising groundwater recharge component that would increase supplies.
But stormwater capture along with groundwater is highly speculative and certainly not sustainable on a year-to-year basis given the whims of Mother Nature. We can only look at averages and the averages have never been good to WSA’s when you look at them historically.
Certainly the city could bump up groundwater recharge with larger catch basins but rain barrels? Seriously? The departments WSA suggests that 10,000 Af of the 25,000 AF total would be met by rain barrels and cisterns. It would take 65 million of those plastic 50 gallon barrels that cost residents about $100 to buy. I suspect that the DWP is perhaps leaning towards underground cisterns to capture some of that water. But how would we know? WSA doesn’t positively identify how many or where these cisterns will be located. It just throws out the claim. WSA’s are supposed to “Show Me the Water” as the law was named, not make empty promises.
Continuing on empty promises, groundwater has always been the department’s go-to resource when you need to bump up imaginary water. The SOLA Village WSA benefits in this trend by citing wild groundwater claims that states the department will be able to deliver more than 100,000 AF year-after-year. However, so did literally every plan before it.
Since 1990 the DWP’s Water Systems Section has repeatedly claimed the city would be receiving an average of 100,000 AF or more each year but that was never met. The WSA doesn’t tell you that. The city’s average yield has been just 67,000 Af since 2000. The WSA also doesn’t tell you that. It doesn’t tell you that only three times since 1990 has it ever exceeded 100,000 AF. It doesn’t really tell you we really don’t have enough water for these projects.
Susceptible to Challenge
Given the way the department carelessly cites access to large sums of unobtainable water to shore up evidence of sufficient supply, this makes WSA susceptible to challenge. WSA’s are a requirement of SB 610 and SB 221 which are collectively known as the “Show Me the Water Laws” but LADWP’s WSA’s plans have not done that since 1990.
This is Part IV in a series describing L.A.’s water supply problems and the policies that produced it.
In Part III we saw how the city sought to maintain the 1985 baseline of ~175 gallons per capita daily in the 1990 UWMP while population estimates increased. As a result we saw the projected supply in the plan jump significantly from the previous plan. We also found that the DWP heavily leveraged the projected 1990 supply in the groundwater and recycled categories using water it had no chance of getting. These factors continued into the 1995-2000 UWMP's.
The 1995 UWMP - L.A.'s 3rd Water Plan
The 1995 UWMP should best be known by the city’s acquiescence that water supply had its limits. Population estimates from the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) did not climb as dramatically as they had in the 1990 plan but the increase from 3.85 million to 4.25 million by 2015 (9%) was still the driving factor.
With future growth estimates continuing to drive the supply requirement of more water, DWP planners were forced to set a new precedent by reducing the per capita supply from 177 gallons per capita to 150 gallons acknowledging that less water would be coming through the Los Angeles Aqueduct due to recent court ordered restrictions of Mono Basin water and at current allocations, future growth would have demanded ridiculously large amounts of water that couldn’t be met.
If the DWP planners tried to sustain the 177 gallons per day cited in the 1990 plan, the projected supply in the new plan would have shot up to 757,000 for 2000 and risen to 886,000 acre feet per year (Af/y) by 2015!
Historically though, reducing the per capita supply to 150 gallons per day per capita would not be enough. At this allocation the DWP suggested that it would have 695,000 Af/y by 2005 and could gradually increase that to 750,000 Af/y by 2015 (Figure 1). But in the years following the approval of the plan, the actual supply figures that came in would demonstrate the DWP's failure to achieve these projections suggesting that there was far too much paper water in the projections to be viable.
DWP planners accepted that less water was going to be available through the aqueduct system and reduced the aqueduct supply by 20,000 Af/y to 360,000 Af/y in the 1995 plan.
To offset the loss of aqueduct water, DWP planners suggested that they could increase the already large projections of the 1990 plans and increase the availability of recycled water to 38,000 Af/y, and groundwater to 152,000 Af/y.
Through the years though, none of these figures would ever be achieved. Recycled water averaged a mere 2,300 Af/y and groundwater averaged just 87,000 Af/y proving the plan wasn’t working.
The historical significance of the 1995 plan was that the DWP would only muster up an average of 638,490 Af/y (Figure 2). Far less than the 750,000 Af/y that it promised. Because of the paper water fueled growing deficit, the DWP would start prodding the public into reducing its demand using such schemes as tiered pricing, washer rebate programs and require that all homes install low-flow toilets before resale.
The 2000 UWMP - L.A.'s 4th Water Plan
L.A.'s fourth water plan might best be known as having to largest projected supply that the DWP said it could meet of any of the city's UWMP's. This monster projection occurred even as the department further reduced the gallons per capita daily water supply. The reasons were due to estimated population projections supplied by SCAG.
The new SCAG population estimates started out at 4,035,305 by 2005 population and would grow to 4,856,887 by 2020. These new population figures when figured into the new per capita allocations created a demand that would skyrocket to almost 800,000 Af/y.
The 2000 UWMP lowered the 'year 2005 supply per capita' of the previous plan from 154 to 150 gallons per day and from their it would ratchet down the consumption further to 147 gallons per day by 2020. (Figure 3)
But the lower allocations would still generate a sharp rise in demand. The DWP said it could supply 718,000 Af/y of water in 2010 and sharply increase in to 799,000 Af/y by 2020. The increase though didn't come from increased recycle and groundwater.
Perhaps realizing that developing a recycled water system and pumping more groundwater was not paying the dividends they predicted earlier, the city ended its long standing resistance to relying on pricier MWD water and would ratchet up purchases of water from 200,000 to 298,650 Af/y which would nearly equal the aqueduct supply level.
Planners were forced to lower the recycled water projections 28% from 38,000 to 29,350 Af/y. Groundwater projections fell only slightly from 152,000 to 150,000 Af/y but aqueduct projections fell significantly from 360,000 Af/y to 321,000 Af/y.
The historical significance of the 2000 UWMP was that the DWP would only be able to deliver an average of 617,000 Af/y from 2000 to 2014 which was well under the promised 757,000 Af/y by 2015 and light years from the 799,000 Af/y it said it would have in 2020 to meet the city’s growth. (Figure 4)
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.
L.A.’s recent drought has been going on far longer than the statewide drought. California’s last drought was declared in 2008 and ended in 2011 and another declared in 2015. L.A’s drought was declared in 2008 and was never rescinded. So why has L.A.’s drought been so persistent and growing by the day? This brings on another question we should ask is how does the city reconcile the endless approvals of new construction during a persistent drought?
The short answer to both is that in order to provide evidence of sufficient water supply for projected growth, the city’s UWMP (Urban Water Management Plan) has been reporting that is has far more water available to it than it can get. Every UWMP from 1990 till now has projected supplies that exceeded 700,000 AF but when we look back at DWP records from 1990 to 2004 we find that the city’s total supply averaged just 627,000 Af/y. Since 2005 the average has fallen even further to just 590,000 Af/y. Simply put, the DWP has never met their projections and that has steered us head-on into a drought.
When DWP officials are asked why they haven’t met the projections cited in the UWMP, using a little spin they tell you that conservation efforts reduced demand and they didn't need to import as much as projected.
This routine answer however is disingenuous since the projections include future growth and clearly the DWP hasn’t met that expectation given today’s restrictions on water. The 1985 UWMP set the city’s baseline water at 175 to 176 gcpd (gallons per capita daily). This number reflected the current level of water to residents, businesses, and industry, it included various conservation programs such as low-flow hardware devices and left room for projected population growth to 3.41 million by 2010. At this level the city cited that it would be able to meet the demand with a very reachable water supply of 667,300 Af/y.
In 1990 however, the city’s population increased faster than the population projections that were cited in the earlier plan. Population projections in the new plan were now 14% higher and in order to maintain a similar per capita supply level and still meet projected growth, the plan’s total demand and supply projections jumped 13 percent to a not so believable 756,500 Af/y by 2010.
In each of the subsequent plans from 1995 to 2010 would continue to cite available supplies over 700,000 Af/y and as high as 799,000 Af/y.
So now the city was confronted with two conflicting demands. The first would be to provide enough water from a now shrinking supply that once averaged 680,000 Af/y and has now fallen to just over 610,000 Af/y and still meet the city’s need. The second was to show that its supply was growing and that it would be sufficient for continued growth.
In an attempt to solve the first problem, the city’s 1995 water plan would have to ratchet down the per capita rate to 150 gallons per day to lower the total demand otherwise we would seen demand in excess of 875,000 Af/y. However even 150 gallons per day wouldn’t be enough over the short term and the city would also have to implement more draconian methods to lower the per capita further by imposing an Emergency Water Conservation order on single family residents and reducing residential billing unit allocations.
The second problem to show a growing water supply over the long term to meet the city’s growth ambitions would require a little sleight-of-hand by the DWP using ‘paper water’.
Paper water by definition is “water that an agency says it has available to it, but its water that is difficult or impossible to access.” and paper water can be measured by the gap between what an agency says it has available to it, and what it eventually gets. The wider the gap, the deeper our problems.
California’s water laws require that planning agencies, and developers show evidence of current and future water availability for their project. EIR’s and water supply assessments all rely on the projections cited in the UWMP so there is a great deal of pressure on the DWP to show that the water supply is growing, where the supplies are coming from and how much. If the water plans did not show evidence of future water availability that was sufficient to match population projections this could greatly hamper the approval of their projects and possibly stop them cold. In fact some cities in California today have stopped issuing water meters to new subdivisions for residential because they have no surplus of water.
So where do we find the DWP’s paper water? With a little digging into the city’s past and current water plans we can find it in literally every category of the city’s water portfolio in literally every water plan.
Paper Ground Water
Our first stop to find paper water is in the DWP’s groundwater projections that are cited in each of the UWMP’s approved by the city between 1990 and 2010. The accompanying groundwater chart shows us a 79,500 Af/y gap between what the DWP says it would have to meet the city’s growth and the actual amount of groundwater the DWP had access to.
For example if we look at the groundwater projections in the 2000 UWMP, groundwater was projected to contribute 133,000 Af/y by 2010. However the average amount received between 2005 and 2014 was just 66,431 Af/y creating a 56% deficit of what they projected. This 56% is what we call paper water because these same conditions arise in each of the other water plans approved by the city. 36% of the groundwater projection cited in the 1990 UWMP was paper water. 51% of the 1995 UWMP’s groundwater was paper water, and in the 2005 UWMP it is 39% paper water.
Over 24 years this paper water would represent about 1,088,000 AF of water that the DWP said it would have to meet projected growth but over time it would never receive.
The city never stood much chance to meet these projections. Growth, fueled by paper water is at the center of blame. LAStormwater.org states that the city captures just 27,000 Af/y of storm water a year to recharge the underground storage. This low rate is attributed by ULARAwatermaster.com to the city’s built-out growth which has impeded the capture of groundwater because so much permeable soil is paved and built over. The Upper Los Angeles River Area Watermaster reports that most of today’s groundwater recharge comes primarily from LA Aqueduct and Metropolitan Water District imports. Further restricting groundwater pumping is that many wells were found to be contaminated in the mid 2000’s and had to be taken out of service.
Paper Recycled Water
Our next stop where we find paper water in is the DWP’s Recycled Water projections. Urban Water Management Plans between 1990 and 2005 all projected rapidly growing recycled water supplies that later would never be realized.
The Recycled Water chart shows a huge gap indicating that up to 91% of water supply the city claimed it would have access to for future growth is just paper water.
In one example the DWP projected in the 1990 UWMP that the city would have 32,800 Af/y of recycled water by the year 2010. This number like all projections would be used as evidence of future growth by planners. But this water would never be realized. The actual average reported yield between 1995 and 2010 was just 2,921 Af/y which was 29,879 Af/y below what was promised. This 91% deficit is our paper water.
We find the same results in each of the other recycled water projections of plans that would follow. If we look at the 2010 projection in the 1995 UWMP, 84% of the 29,000 Af/y that was supposedly available ended up as paper water. In the 2000 plan, 75% of the 18,400 Af/y projected for the year 2010 ended up as paper. In the 2005 plan 65% of the 16,950 Af/y projected was paper water.
Over 24 years this would represent at least 384,096 AF of paper water that the city said it had access to as evidence that it had sufficient supply for projected growth but it never received that water.
Oddly, the DWP’s latest 2010 plan appears to be doubling down on paper water by citing that it will have 59,000 Af/y available to it by 2035. Already it looks like the first milestone in 2010 of 20,000 Af/y will be missed by a large margin which further demonstrates how that L.A’s drought and growth are built on paper water.
Paper Aqueduct Water
The city owned aqueducts have been our primary source of water since 1913 but in recent years it has also become the UWMP’s largest contributor of paper water.
Even though the aqueduct’s projections in each plan would fall incrementally due primarily to environmental mitigation, the percentage of paper water would increase from 38% during the 1990 UWMP reporting period to 54% by the 2005 UWMP reporting period.
In this example, if we look at the 1995 UWMP, aqueduct water was projected to be 360,000 Af/y which included surpluses for future growth. But that water never came down the pipe. The actual total reported supply was just 217,258 AF/y between 2000 and 2014 was 142,274 Af/y below what was promised. This meant that 43% of the projected total was paper water.
The 2000 UWMP projected aqueduct supplies to be 321,000 Af/y through to the year 2020. However to date the average supply has been just 210,132 Af/y meaning that 45% of the projected supply was paper water. The 2005 UWMP would look worse. It projected 276,000 Af/y through the year 2030 but the supply beginning with its reporting period has been just 173,393 Af/y meaning that over half of the water projected in this plan, 54% was paper water.
Over 24 years this would represent at least 1,863,000 AF of paper water that the city said it had access to as evidence of a growing supply but it never received to this date.
Paper MWD Water
It’s hard to describe MWD water as paper water since most of the DWP’s projections for MWD water were greatly under reported from what was actually received. Typically when the City of L.A. fell short of water which was most of the time, the MWD would step in to fill in as much missing supply as it could. But water is a zero-sum resource and if you take more than your share of water, you’re taking it from another agency. There are limits to what the MWD could supply and history suggests that 423,000 Af/y was L.A’s limit.
MWD water can be described as paper water because each of the city’s UWMP assures that any shortfall of city owned water would be made up by MWD water which is a promise that can’t be met. That is promise made to planners more than it is to the city’s residents.
This category is a new form of paper water that was just introduced in the 2010 UWMP. In past years, the term conservation applied to water supply that was already received by the city and the value attributed to it was measured by the reduced number of gallons per capita. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the DWP originally allocated about 175 gallons per capita in the 1985 and 1990 water plans which includes residential, commercial, government and industrial uses. The city’s conservation programs since then have reduced this to 141 gallons per capita using primarily Tier pricing and low-flow hardware devises. More recently it included so-called “turf buy back” and enforcement measures. In its simplest terms, ‘conservation’ is the ability to stretch out a given supply.
The DWP in 2010 decided to turn this idea on top of its head and count conservation as a source of supply that adds to the city’s total supply. This appears to be another attempt to produce more water on the ‘books’, but water that in time will not be accessible. The 2010 UWMP appears to be suggesting that the city will receive 14,180 Af/y of new water by 2015 and up to 64,368 Af/y by 2035.
This is another new category to the UWMP. Transfers may also turn out to be another form of paper water since water transfers from other agencies is solely dependent on them having surplus water which is in doubt these days.
Most of the agencies the city could bargain with also depend on the SWP to supply them water. The SWP has been seriously cutting back allocations to their customers which includes the MWD.
The 2010 UWMP projects that it will receive 40,000 Af/y through the Neenach pumping station. Only time will tell if this is a viable and reliable source of water.
Overall the amount of water the city promised for future growth and did not meet is staggering. Each UWMP would follow a familar pattern. The first of the five year milestones would be adjusted relatively close to the current supply level and in the following 10, 15, and later milestone years, paper water would contribute to ‘unlikely to be reached’ levels of supply.
When we look at the 1990 UWMP for example we find that the total annual water supply projected by the year 2010 was 756,500 Af/y but the actual supply that came in during the scope of this plan was just 624,283 Af/y. Paper water represented 17% of total projection given the shortfall of 132,217 AF per year. The 2000 UWMP would raise the projections astronomically to 799,000 Af/y but as actual supplies came in, the average so far to date is just 617,645 Af/y thus producing a deficit of 181,355 Af/y per year.
Over 24 years, this would represent 4,352,000 AF of paper water that the city said it had access to as evidence of a growing supply but it never received to this date.
From the standpoint of development and the planning department, paper water is a good thing because the EIR’s, WSA’s and smaller projects that fall below SB-221 reporting requirements can all be assured that whatever their demand is, it will “fall within the available and projected water supplies” over the 20 to 25 year scope of the plan they are citing. Whether the city falls into a permanent drought is irrelevant to the approval process but it has huge repercussions elsewhere since the unmet demands means that the water must be found elsewhere when conservation isn't enough. These demands might be met by fallowing farmlands in the South San Joaquin valley or eliminating their supplies altogether forcing them to drive wells deeper to meet their shortfalls.
From the standpoint of residents however, paper water means higher utility bills, lower tier allocations, and lower property values for the unlucky homeowners who have high density built behind their yards but worst of all, it means the city's water supply is no longer reliable.
In 1983 the State of California passed the Urban Water Management Plan Act that required water suppliers to provide a water plan every five years.
The Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP) is rich in information as it identifies the agencies sources of water (aqueduct, groundwater, imported), amounts of water available from these sources, methods of conveyance, current and future water uses, projected demand, current and future conservation methods, demographics, population density and growth, housing mix, commercial/industrial/governmental demand, etc.
The importance of the UWMP is that it is used as a guideline for making public decisions concerning water and is cited in planning documents, water supply assessments. But the UWMP can also be seriously misused when 'paper water' is inserted into the plans which provides a misleading assessment of the water supply or when city officials simply rubber stamp the findings without any sort of reassessment given current water supply availability.
The City of L.A.'s UWMP's are both fascinating and disappointing in that they paint a picture of great expectations, a long term failure to meet demand and worse, a misleading assessment of the city's true water supply. What follows is a retrospective look back at previous UWMP's. What we find is a blueprint to a permanent water deficit.
The 1985 UWMP - L.A.'s First Water Plan
The 1985 UWMP was the first state mandated water plan published by LADWP. This first time report was an honest and useful assessment of the city's water supply at the time. The plan assumed the city would receive a constant 470,000 Af/y supply through the Los Angeles aqueduct, 103,000 Af/y of groundwater and a small but growing reliance on MWD water between 1986 through 2010.
From a planning perspective the most important part of the UWMP are the tables that show the projected water requirements at 5, 10, 15, and 20 increments for average years. The tables break down how much water the city assumes it will receive through the aqueduct, local groundwater, MWD, and recycled water. It's important that these projections meet the actual supply 5, 10, 15, and 20 years later because they are used in environmental impact reports and water supply assessments as guidelines for future development. If the actual supply doesn't meet the projections then we can assume we are creating a water supply deficit.
This is Part II of a series describing L.A.’s water supply problems and the policies that produced it.
As remarkable as L.A.'s water supply growth was in its first 75 years, city's residents would be stunned by the loss of supply since 1985 if they were aware of it. For awhile optimism crept into the water plans and the city thought that there was no limits to growing since it could continue to rely on its appropriative rights and relatively constant 1984 levels for future growth. In 1984 the city's supply reached 716,915 af with the Los Angeles Aqueduct supplying 74% of the total supply and there really wasn't any reason to believe that it couldn't continue to maintain these levels far into the future.
However things began to unravel in a big way. While the city would continue to supply water ranging from 650,000 to 701,000 af/y for the next few years, this was coming as aqueduct levels were falling dramatically and the city was increasingly relying on Metropolitan Water District supply.
L.A. would soon be learning that water in California is a zero sum game and where there are winners, there are always losers. For the first 75 years L.A. was the winner and the people of the Owens and Mono Basins were the losers. Outside of a few episodes of farmers and towns people dynamiting sections of the aqueduct in the early years, exports to L.A. were relatively low key until the Second Los Angeles Aqueduct came in to service. The modest 300,000 af/y imports through the first aqueduct might have continued to this day had the second aqueduct not been built. But in 1971, the second barrel changed all that and it took export levels to an entirely new level.
In three short years the flows through the aqueduct increased 73 percent from 343,767 af to 471,304 af. Exports from Mono, once restricted to 123 cfs by the capacity of the First aqueduct downstream, could now export waters from Rush and Lee Vining Creeks at its full 400 cfs capacity. By 1979 the aqueduct system was delivering over 500,000 af/y using both barrels to Los Angeles.
But the Second aqueduct upset a delicate balance. Entire creek flows on Rush and Lee Vining were diverted. Little water was passing by the diversion gates into the lower creeks and into Mono Lake. The creeks dried up and so was Mono Lake. Similarly 120 miles south, groundwater levels in the Owens Basin was falling dramatically and unable to support native plants and turning the basin into the most dust polluted region in the United States.
Once unnoticed, now people were taking notice. For the first time, L.A.’s aqueducts imports were threatening the health of areas where the waters came from. It was one thing to take water away from farmers or local townspeople. The city argued, they sold their rights fair and square. However it was an entirely different matter, to destroy creeks, rivers, lakes and produce dangerous levels of dust. The lawsuits began to fly and the courts found another rights was in peril, the ‘public trust’. Public trust and CEQA would trump the city’s ‘appropriative right’ and what followed would bring aqueduct exports back to 1940's levels. But the damage was already done.
L.A.’s first bow shock came in 1972 when the County of Inyo filed suit under the California Environmental Quality Act. The court of appeals later limited the city's pumping to 148 cu ft/sec thus losing about 107,000 af/y. In 1983 'Public Trust' mandated reconsideration of LADWP creek diversions and diversions on Mono Lake.
Los Angeles began losing access to water. The magnitude of the loses were huge. Today, 60% of the city's aqueduct supply is devoted to mitigating the environmental damage that the Second Aqueduct started. What follows is a summary of the actions that resulted in the city's loss of access to water.
Mono Basin Litigations
1983 (Audubon v Superior Court) ‘Public trust’ mandated reconsideration of LADWP diversions and the diversions on Mono Lake.
1985 (Dalgren v Los Angeles) – Court finds ‘public trust’ requires release of 19 cfs down Rush Creek to protect fisheries.
1987 – (Mono Lake Committee v City of Los Angeles) Court finds ‘public trust’ requires release of 4-5 cfs down Lee Vining Creek to protect fish habitat.
1989 (California Trout v SWRCB; Caltrout I) – State Water Resource Control Board was in violation of Fish and Game Code by failing to establish ‘bypass requirements’ at LADWP diversion in Mono Basin.
1990 (California Trout v Superior Court; Caltrout II) – Court directed SWRCB to exercise it duty to amend LADWP Mono stream water rights to release sufficient water to re-establish and maintain fisheries that existed before the diversions.
These cases were coordinated (packaged as one) as ‘Mono Lake Water Right Cases’ in El Dorado Superior Court. The net result of this collection of cases was that the court ordered LADWP to release 60,000AF of water down Mono Lake tributaries. In 1991 the same court found that 60,000AF was not sufficient to maintain Mono Lake levels and set permanent stream flows limiting exports from Mono Basin to 4,500AF per year to raise and maintain level of Mono Lake to 6,377 ft above sea level.
Loss: > 60,000AF
Owens Basin Litigation
1973 – County of Inyo v. Yorty, California environmental Quality Act applies to Owens Valley pumping.
1973-1984 Groundwater is restricted to 149 cfs.
1987 – EPA finds Owens Valley in ‘non-attainment of particulate (dust) matter.
1999 – (Great Basin Air Pollution Control District v. Los Angeles) - To meet PM-10 standards, LADWP to divert ~90,000 AF to Owens Lake to control dust.
2007 – Lower Owens River Project (LORP) A written understanding between Inyo County, California Department of Fish and Game, the State Lands Commission, the Sierra Club, the Owens Valley Committee and the LADWP to release 40 cfs (30,000AF) into Lower Owens River to mitigate pumping in the Owens Valley.
Loss: > 90,000AF
Metropolitan Water District
The City of Los Angeles isn't the only client agency of the MWD. The MWD serves 25 other agencies representing all of Southern California. Since 1984 the city has increasingly lost access to aqueduct water and depended more on the MWD. Whereas 74% of the city's supply came from the aqueduct in 1984, today the MWD supplies the city with ~75 percent of its water.
However growth, the drought and environmental litigation have taken a toll on the MWD as well. Allocations from the State Water Project allocations were drastically curtailed in 2007 with a federal court decision to reduce pumping. Over the last five years have been reduced to just 39% and in the last two years to just 13%. Metropolitan states that with just 930,000 af of Colorado River deliveries and 382,000 af of SWP water, it will be forced to make significant withdrawals from the Southland’s remaining reserves to help meet water demands. Metropolitan's reserves have fallen to 50% of what they were in 2012.
In October of 2014, Mayor Eric Garcetti issued an executive order to reduce the city's reliance on MWD water by 50%. While he did not state it I don't think there should be much doubt that the city's decision to reduce MWD purchases is related to MWD's own supply challenges.
Loss: > 200,000AF
Recommended reading: ‘Owens Valley Revisited’ (2007) by Gary D. Libecap which focuses on the original negotiations between the Eaton, the city and Owens Valley farmers between 1905 and 1938 and the environmental litigations that took place from 1983 to the present.