Do You Know Where LA Gets Its Water?

California is in its third year of drought. Last summer Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a State of Emergency Proclamation for the San Joaquin Valley’s nine counties, an area considered to be the agricultural center of the world. Schwarzenegger characterized the drought as the “the most significant water crisis” in the state’s history. The drought has left state reservoir’s at 35 percent capacity.
Recently, Good Magazine posted information about where Los Angeles gets its water. Not surprisingly, none of the city’s water is locally sourced. A major source of its water is the Owens River-Tinemaha Reservoir, 133 miles away in Owens Valley. The water in the Owens River- Tinemaha Reservoir comes from
the State Water Project, a 444 mile-long water system which begins in Northern California.

Other sources of water for Los Angeles are the Haiwee Reservoir, 137 miles away in the Owens Valley, Lake Havasu (reservoir) 242 miles away in Arizona, and the Colorado River Aqueduct, 200 miles away.
In February, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced plans to conserve water. Residents who do not conserve water will pay more. If enacted, the plan would force residents to cut water usage by 15-20 percent. The plan has to be approved by the Board of Water and Power Commission and the Los Angeles City Council in order to be enacted.
Last year an ordinance went into effect in Los Angeles which limits the amount of water residents can use outdoors between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. In 2008, the use of water declined by 6.9 percent, and city-owned properties declined by 16 percent.
The city of Fresno, whose water is locally sourced, has stricter limits on outdoor watering. Since the 1980s, Fresno residents are allowed to water in the winter only on Saturdays or Sundays, depending on whether their address number is odd or even. In the summer, even numbered addresses can water only on Wednesday, Friday, and Sundays, and odd numbered addresses on the other days of the week.
Clark County in Nevada, which Las Vegas is a part of, bans front lawns in some new neighborhoods. Some Clark County cities, including Las Vegas, have grass buyback programs, where homeowners and businesses are paid $2 per square foot to remove the first 1,500 square feet of lawn, and $1 for removing more lawn. The campaign saves 20,000 acre feet of water a year.
Desalination plants in Southern California
Southern California has several desalination plants in the works. In 2005, the Huntington Beach City Council certified the environmental Impact Report for the proposed Huntington Beach Desalination Facility. The next year, the City Council approved a conditional use permit for the facility. Construction is slated to begin this year, with the facility operational in 2011.
The facility is funded by Poseidon Resources Corporation. It will provide 50 million gallons of water a day (50 MGD). According to the Huntington Beach Desalination Facility’s website, it would bring almost $2 million a year to the city, and an estimated $70 million over the facility’s life span. It will save the city $14 million in local water infrastructure.
Every year the facility will pay $500,000 in sales tax. In addition, it will create 675 direct jobs, and 275 indirect jobs during its construction. Once operating, it will create 18 full time jobs, and 322 indirect jobs.
Poseidon is also building a desalination plant in Carlsbad, which will not only provide water for the city, but the cities of Oceanside, San Marcos, San Diego, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Rancho Santa Fe, Escondido, Chula Vista, and National City. Construction will begin on the plant this year, and in 2011 it will be operational. The plant will bring $2.4 million a year in tax revenue, and create 2,100 construction jobs, and 400 permanent jobs.
The plant will contain solar photovoltaic (PV) panels which will generate 777 megawatts a year. The size of the plant, five acres, will be small compared to other desalination plants. It will be built with LEED principles, according to Poseidon.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

11 responses

  1. Frankly, desalinization dissappoints me, I’d rather see socal learn to live with what they’ve got. Triple the price of water and you’ll see conservation real quick

  2. but what about farming? residential is less than 10% of California’s water use.
    Is EVERY farm in SoCal using the absolute most efficient irrigation methods?
    What is being done to incentivize the cattle industry to move to less water-stressed regions? Is the CA government going to dry up the state by allowing the most water-intensive industry to remain?

  3. Susanna – quite true. If there’s anything that’s worth spending federal stimulus money on it’s better water management for California’s central valley. Very few farms use drip irrigation, and expensive, but vastly more efficient method of irrigation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven across the valley and, in the heat of a 90 degree day, seen sprinklers just blasting water into the sky where most of it just evaporates! LA is a beast for water use, but inefficient agriculture is much worse.

  4. Despite what I say above, it kind of blows my mind that Fresno is forced to ration while LA is not as strict. Lawns should be completely banned in Las Vegas, but that’s another conversation…

  5. More California communities need to follow the lead of Tulare – one of the San Joaquin Valley communities impacted by the state of emergency. Tulare just installed 18,000 water meters on homes and businesses – years ahead of the state-mandated deadline. Studies show that just installing a meter can cut a property owner’s water use by 15%. Much of the cost was covered by increasing city revenues through more accurate water meter readings, by lowering water usage to the point at which the city could put off drilling new and expensive water wells, and by cutting energy and operational costs through lighting upgrades and other energy-saving measures in municipal buildings. Every city in America should follow this example.

  6. Nick, actually the past few decades, farms have become much more water efficient in the Central San Joaquin Valley. Many farms have switched to drip irrigation. I know because I grew up as the fourth generation on a vineyard ranch. In fact, I still live in the rural community where I grew up.
    I found a rather interesting article about drip irrigation on the California Farm Bureau Federation’s website. According to the article, during the years 2003-2008, California farmers invested $1.5 billion in drip and microsprinkler irrigation technology.
    Jeff, I was thrilled to read your comment about Tulare. Fresno needs to follow suit!

  7. Years of drought on the Colorado River, and below-normal rainfall and snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains, combined with environmental restrictions on pumping water, have severely reduced the region’s water supply. As a result, we in places like Southern California are currently heading into Mandatory Conservation. What this means is that restrictions or fines on water usage could be imposed in order to address the water shortage. Therefore we need to make a conscious effort to reduce and minimize our water usage. Easy things we can do to help save water include fixing leaky sprinklers, installing water efficient shower heads, toilets, sprinklers etc. Check out all the tips on the BeWaterWise site and pass it on to fellow Southern Californians!

  8. I’m glad to here that Southern Cal cities are finally enacting mandatory conservation. Fresno has been doing it for decades. The irony is that Southern Cal gets part of its water from the San Joaquin Valley.

    One thing people can do to save water is rip out part of their lawns and put in drought tolerant plants.

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