Not my grandpa’s MWD

In 1952, Robert Gottlieb and Margaret FitzSimmons explain in their 1991 book Thirst for Growth, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California essentially extended a promise to the communities it served: build away, we’ll get you the water as needed. It came in the form of the “Laguna Declaration” (so named because of the lovely beach community where the declaration was signed):

When and as additional water resources are required to meet increasing needs for domestic, industrial and municipal water, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California shall be prepared to deliver such supplies.

Time was, that meant flexing the political muscle needed to build the State Water Project, to bring northern California water south over the Tehachapis to the Southern California coastal plain, or trying to get a Peripheral Canal or a couple of big water-moving tunnels built to run water past the Sacramento Delta. It’s the sort of thing my late grandfather John S. Berry, a Republican Realtor of the old Southern California-building kind, could get behind. He loved the big water projects.

These days, it apparently means tearing out lawns. Bradley Fikes in the Union Tribune:

Southern California’s largest water agency, Metropolitan Water District, will consider dramatically increasing its conservation budget by a record $350 million, which it says will make the water-saving program the nation’s largest.

The additional expense could also raise water rates by 21 percent, according to one of its board members.

With all the attention to drought, MWD has had a huge burst of interest in its subsidized water conservation programs, especially paying residents and businesses to rip out there lawns.

Here’s the meat of the proposal:


For comparison, 172 million square feet is just a tad shy of 4,000 acres, the equivalent of less than one percent of the acreage currently under irrigation with Colorado River water in Imperial County. In 2012-13, MWD sold 1.68 million acre feet of water, so the 23,000 acre feet of water savings a year from the lawn piece is a bit more than 1 percent. (Click on the excerpt to see the full staff report.) Not a lot of water, though if you keep doing it year after year, it could add up.

Back in grandpa’s day, “deliver such supplies” meant a new dam and a canal or pipe. These days it’s tearing out lawns, I guess.


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  2. As noted in MWD staff report total of $335.9 million in turf removal rebates would be paid with projected savings of 232,732 acre-feet on assumed benefit of ten years, i.e., 23,273 AF saved each year over the next ten years. I calculate that cost to be $1,443 per AF each year for the next ten years. Staff report projects the program will remove 172 million s.f. of turf or about 3.4 times the Governor’s statewide goal of 50 million s.f. of turf removal. Is this a balanced approach? Might we have done better by allocating the funds to a different mix of conservation programs, maybe leaving a little more available for local resource programs?
    Rebates for (water saving) devices are more cost effective than turf removal in the near term and can provide immediate savings once the new devise is installed” (MET report p. 5).

  3. Using Charles’ numbers, I’ll point out that MWD *would love* to buy water at $1,000/af and there are MANY FARMERS who’d love to sell it. Where’s that in the “balanced approach”?

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