Debunking the myth about Southern California's water use

2:04 PM, Jan 20, 2014   |    comments
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SACRAMENTO - Northern Californians who blame the water shortage on their wasteful neighbors to the south as much as they do the lack of rain may be surprised to learn the truth.

"The myth that we'd be debunking is that Southern California is wasting water," said Terry Erlewine, general manager of the State Water Contractors, an association of 27 public water agencies that purchase water from the State Water Project. The agencies include the Metropolitan Water District, which serves 19 million people in six Southern California counties.

Southern California water providers have spent more than $12 billion over the past two decades to increase storage capacity while encouraging conservation.

Some offer rebates for water-efficient toilets, washing machines and sprinklers.  Homeowners in some cities can collect up to $2 per square foot of lawn they replace with drought-tolerant landscaping.

"There's been a huge amount of water conservation implemented in Southern California," said Erlewine, who pointed out that despite a population increase of 3 million over the past 20 years, water use in Southern California has remained flat.

According to the state Department of Water Resources (DWR), daily urban water use in the major metropolitan areas of Southern California averages 189 gallons per person, which is 90 gallons per day less than people in the Sacramento area use.

"That's incredible," said Jeff Hayes, operations director at the Brookcrest Water Company, Sacramento's only locally-owned bottler. "We always hear stories of how much more water Southern California uses than we do, and that's just an amazing figure to me."

DWR cautions that low or high water use is not necessarily an indicator of efficiency, as climate and land use factors can have a significant effect on water use. San Francisco Bay Area residents, for example, use just a little more than half as much water as people in Sacramento.

Another common complaint among Northern Californians is that "their" water is being shipped to Southern California.

In normal years, Southern Californians get a significant share of their water from Lake Oroville, which is where the State Water Project originates. The rest comes from the Colorado River and other sources.

But because the drought has drawn Lake Oroville down to just a third of its capacity, 2014 deliveries to Southern California have already been cut to five percent of the normal allocation, and Erlewine said deliveries could drop to zero if drought conditions persist.

"So the amount of (Northern California) water this year that's going to Southern California is close to being non-existent," he said.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California issued a statement in October calling the supply outlook "sobering," but said the significant investments in storage capacity along with heightened water conservation would allow the district to get through 2015 without additional water restrictions.

But following Gov. Jerry Brown's drought declaration last week, the Southern California Water Committee, a non-profit public education partnership, called on all Californians to examine their water use to find ways they can meet the governor's goal of a statewide 20 percent reduction.

By George Warren,


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