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.
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.
Now that we find that the City of Los Angeles routinely props up its water portfolio using 'paper water' so where do we find it? We first find evidence of the city's reliance on paper water in the groundwater projections cited in each of the Urban Water Management Plans between 1985 and 2005.
The chart at the right plots the gap between the actual groundwater supply the city had access to and the anticipated supplies that each UWMP projected. The gap between the two is the paper water that would be used to as evidence that medium and high density projects going through the planning process would have sufficient water when in fact they didn’t.
The city routinely projected supplies that ranged from 103,000 AF to 155,000 AF during that period. Including a brief period between 1997 and 2000 of exceptionally high pumping, the actual amount of well water produced by the city was 33% below expectations. Far below the city's expectations and glossy presentations that suggested that growing groundwater supply would help the city meet its needs and allow its growth ambitions.
Despite the city's average of just 71,000 AF since 2001, the city's current 2010 water plan continues propping up it's paper water inventory citing that it should an average of 107,426 af/y in available groundwater supplies between the years 2020 and 2035.
Between 2000 and 2014 the city's groundwater supply would remain flat at 71,059 af/y which is far below any of the past UWMP projections that ranged from 103,000 af/y to as high as 152,000 af/y.
This gap between 'projected or anticipated supply' and 'actual supply' is an unfortunate characteristic of the city's water supply. It's a promise spanning 5 water plans and 25 years that was used to mischaracterize the city's supply to approve high density development.
The City's failure to meet groundwater projections stems primarily from the fact that it is just storage. The City of Los Angeles Stormwater Program reports that the city captures just 27,000 AF of water to recharge the underground storage. The reason for this can be found in Upper Los Angeles River Area Watermaster reports which state that "The continued growth of residential, commercial, and industrial developments has required that more water be imported to supplement the local groundwater supplies in ULARA over time. Imported supplies to ULARA are from the Los Angeles Aqueduct and from MWD".
Because of the extent of development in the valley, much of today's potential groundwater supply is simply channeled into storm drains and down the LA River. Secondly, ULARA reports that many of the San Fernando Valleys groundwater pumps have been taken out of service due to groundwater contamination.
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. Over 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.
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.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.
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."
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.