Environment & Science

LADWP, state's largest water agency, will apply for reduction in drought conservation goals

LA Department of Water and Power building in Los Angeles.
LA Department of Water and Power building in Los Angeles.
Omar Bárcena

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The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is planning to ask state water regulators for a reduction in its drought conservation goal to reflect the drier, hotter climate in parts of the city like the San Fernando Valley, officials said Wednesday. 

The move, if approved, would knock the utility's water saving target down to 14 percent from the current mark of 16 percent.

It  would also mean the nation's largest municipal utility would get additional breathing room to meet its overall goal. Currently DWP has saved 16.7 percent between June 1 and Jan. 1 compared to the same period in 2013. 

The State Water Resources Control Board has tasked all urban water agencies in California to hit a statewide reduction of 25 percent by the end of this month.

The water board has fined some districts like Beverly Hills and Redlands after they fell short of their monthly targets.

"We want to just make sure that we aren't putting our rate payer's money at risk," said DWP water conservation manager Penny Falcon, of the reduction request. 

Earlier this month the water board announced that certain districts can qualify to lower their conservation goals based on warmer climate conditions, population growth and investments in new, drought-friendly water supplies like desalination plants and wastewater reuse facilities.

All told, water suppliers can get between 2 and 8 percentage points off their current goal, depending on what they qualify for.

INTERACTIVE: Explore water use by LADWP during the drought

DWP plans to apply for a climate adjustment, arguing that the heat and dryness of inland areas of the sprawling city put the agency at a disadvantage when it comes to saving water.

Initially, DWP did not qualify for a climate adjustment under  the water board's draft analysis of how quickly water evaporates and is released by plants in Los Angeles as a whole. But DWP's Falcon said her team has additional climate data that the state wasn't taking into account.

Four years ago, DWP installed four new weather stations in the hot, dry San Fernando Valley. Falcon said climate readings from these stations show LADWP's service area is indeed drier than the state average making the district eligible for an adjustment of two percentage points.

Winter months are always harder when it comes to saving water since most people typically don't use as much outdoor irrigation. That means there is less overall water use to cut back on.

Thanks to months of water conservation messaging and news of a strong El Niño bringing rain to parts of the state, many Californians are feeling drought fatigue, but Falcon says Angelenos need to stay committed.

"We don't want anybody slacking off, we still want everyone having that conservation and efficiency ethic," Falcon said. 

Along with the new rules about water target adjustments, the state water board also voted to extend the emergency drought measure through to October. They were initially set to expire this month.

Several other water districts in Southern California will see their targets lowered thanks to the climate adjustment, including the Coachella Valley Water District.

Currently, CVWD must cut water use by 36 percent, the highest amount asked of districts across the state. Thanks to the new rules, the utility's new goal will be 32 percent, said Heather Engel, conservation director at Coachella Valley Water District.

“We were actually hoping that the state would allow a maximum of 8 percent for the climate adjustment as they did with some of the other adjustments," she said. "But, you know, 4 percent, we’ll take it.”

Other water districts plan to seek reductions to their conservation goals based on investments in new sources of drought-friendly water. 

For example, several districts in Orange County are expected to see a break thanks to their role in funding the Orange County Water District's ground water replenishment system which reuses treated waste water.

For Newport Beach, that could mean a drop of seven percentage points off its goal of cutting water by 28 percent.

Since that district is currently saving about 20 percent on average, the new rate of 21 percent would put it much closer to meeting its goal.

“It would be huge," said George Murdoch, utility manager with the city.

Still, many places hoping the new rules would cut them some slack are finding out that may not be the case.

The City of Arcadia for example, is facing a conservation target of 36 percent, and so far it's behind by about 8 points. 

Sami Taylor with the city's Water Conservation Program said she hoped it would qualify for the climate adjustment but recently learned it does not.

“I’m pretty sure we’ll be stuck at 36 percent, which in the spirit of saving water I totally understand, but it will still be a challenge for our community,” said Taylor.

The water board said it will revisit the drought conservation orders this April.