Southern California water policy is looking like a game of speed chess right now. Amid the moves to supplement its Colorado River flow with extra water from Las Vegas and Imperial (agenda pdf), Met’s board also is considering spending money on cleaning up and reusing more of the sewage effluent Southern California currently dumps in the ocean. Here’s Matt Stevens’ take:
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is in talks with Los Angeles County sanitation districts about developing what could be one of the largest recycled water programs in the world.
In a committee meeting Monday, the agency’s staff presented the framework of a plan to purify and reuse as much as 168,000 acre-feet of water a year – enough to serve about twice that number of households for a year.
Doing so would require MWD to build a treatment plant and delivery facilities and comply with various environmental regulations. Officials say similar projects have cost about $1 billion.
Sewage recycling a shift?
Stevens and one of the board members he quotes call this a shift away from water importation for Met, but I’d argue that shift has been underway for nearly 20 years, since the development of Met’s “Integrated Resources Plan” in the mid-1990s. It was the IRP’s emphasis on more reuse, conjunctive groundwater management, and similar measures that positioned Met to successfully cope with the 2003 Department of the Interior decision to slash the agency’s Colorado River Aqueduct supplies. (Buy my book! As soon as I finish writing it! I’m almost done!)
But Southern California still dumps a lot of treated effluent into the ocean, so this option still leaves the region more room yet to move on the recycling front.
Met can just look to the remarkable success of one of its own member agencies — the Orange County Water District — in implementing the Groundwater Replenishment System.
While it’s been years since I was active in California water issues, my recollection was that historically Met was reluctant to get into recharge, leaving that issue to its member agencies, both for legal and financing reasons. Both the Central and West Basins are adjudicated and recharge of those basins is vested in the Water Replenishment District of Southern California (WRD), a separate legal entity. And, as the article points out, San Diego is likely to object to paying for recharge that benefits the LA area.
So while Met may provide some leadership in this area, I expect that the plans will ultimately have to be approved and financed by the relevant member agencies.