The Southern California water dilemma

So, tell me, does this sound sustainable, or even sensible? Los Angeles purchases hydro power generated from the Hoover Dam, which is nearly 300 miles away in another state, to power giant pumps that hoist water from the Colorado River up 400 feet to Chiriaco Summit near Joshua Tree, where it is then distributed to a thirsty Southland. Thus, we have hydroelectric power from hundreds of miles away being used to power pumps to bring in water that also comes from hundreds of miles away. It could just be me, and perhaps this seemed a grand idea decades ago when the water system was created, but such a massive system seems unwieldy at best now, and it’s an energy hog as well.

This behemoth system is run by the Metropolitan Water District (MWD)of Southern California, which is the 800 lb. gorilla of California water. But Southern California isn’t the only gorilla in the arena. The Southern Nevada Water Authority, headed by the always formidable and relentless Pat Mulroy, wants increasing amounts of Colorado River water too. Las Vegas is just as thirsty as Los Angeles and is located in an even hotter desert climate.

MWD has brought 25% of its power from the Hoover Dam for years. But the contract expires in 2017 and it expects to lose 5% of its power, which then will have to be bought on the open market at higher prices. California’s new cap-and-trade plan mandates that MWD will have to buy costly pollution allowances to offset any carbon-based power it used. Further, the State Water Project, which brings water from the Sacramento Delta to the Southland, is the biggest electricity user in the state. But costs there will be rising too, as MWD switches from coal power to renewable energy. All in all, energy costs could rise 80% in the coming decade. Wholesale water rates from MWD have already increased 75% in six years.

The Colorado River Aqueduct is 242 miles long while the State Water Project is 444 miles. Water is pumped nearly 2,000 feet uphill near the Grapevine. Water and energy are intertwined. Without huge amounts of energy powering those pumps, even if some of it is from hydro power, Southern California would run out of water quickly.

Water conservation needs to be a permanent idea, not something just done during droughts. For example, do golf courses in deserts make any sense at all? They benefit just a few and use too much water, even as some genuinely strive to cut back on usage. Ditto for lush lawns in semi-arid areas. This simply may not be feasible going forward in an era of increased competition for water and rising energy prices. Xeriscaping, landscaping and gardening that reduce the need for water, is a real option here.

Groundwater recycling and capturing water for future use rather than letting it flow into the ocean also need to be done. Wastewater can and should be treated and reused. Then the Southland won’t have to pump nearly as much water such long distances. This will save on energy as well as water costs.

(crossposted from IVN)