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Southern California's Water Conservation and Storage Efforts Paying Off

The region has poured over a billion dollars into storage infrastructure and demand management policies in anticipation of worsening drought conditions.
May 7, 2021, 8am PDT | Diana Ionescu | @aworkoffiction
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Omar Bárcena

Despite Governor Newsom's recent warning that California is, once again, facing drought conditions, reports Laura Bliss for Bloomberg Green + CityLab, "highly urbanized Southern California has a record 3.2 million acre-feet of water in reserve, enough to quench the population’s needs this year and into the next." This reserve is "thanks in large part to tremendous gains in storage infrastructure and steady declines in water use — driven by mandates, messaging, and incentive programs — belied by the region’s storied reputation for thirst."

Over the last two decades, Southern California "has invested more than $1 billion in new storage infrastructure, including a nearly trillion-liter reservoir at Diamond Valley Lake and the Inland Feeder Pipeline, a 44-mile network of tunnels and pipes that more than doubled capacity for deliveries from the State Water Project, California’s massive system for water storage and delivery that serves many its cities."

Additionally, "the last drought triggered changes in how Californians consume their precious resource. At the press conference last week, Newsom praised the 16% reduction in water use the state has made since 2013." Today, Los Angeles "uses less water now than it did in the 1970s, despite adding 1 million residents," and "[s]ince 2009, nearly 52 million square feet of lawn have been replaced through rebates and outreach programs boosting drought-tolerant succulents, flowers and chaparrals."

Historically, Los Angeles has drawn much of its water from outside the region, but with California's water supplies set to dwindle due to climate change and intensified drought, "L.A. hopes to wean itself off of imports and expand its capacity for self-sustenance. Mayor Eric Garcetti has pledged to source 70% of the city’s water locally by 2035, while L.A.’s latest urban water management plan calls to reduce per capita water use to 100 gpcd [gallons per capita per day] by 2035."

"There is no supply in California that is not vulnerable," says Newsha Ajami, director of urban water policy at Stanford University's Water in the West program, citing the importance of demand management as "the best and cheapest way we can approach water security."

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Published on Wednesday, April 28, 2021 in Bloomberg Green+CityLab
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