METROPOLITAN ONE WATER COMMITTEE: Potential of increased water efficiency, reuse, stormwater capture; $100 million for water transfers; SoCal water update, and more …

With the installation of Adán Ortega as the Chair of the Metropolitan Water District Board of Directors, there have been in the committee structure and assignments.  The Bay-Delta Committee and the Water Planning and Stewardship Committee are no longer; they have been combined into the One Water and Stewardship Committee.  The Chair of the One Water Committee is Tracy Quinn, currently the President and CEO of Heal the Bay; previously, she was the Director of California Water Efficiency with the Healthy People and Thriving Communities Program at the NRDC. 

On January 9, the Committee met for the first time.  The agenda, ambitious for a two-hour meeting, included a presentation from Heather Cooley with the Pacific Institute on the potential for increasing water use efficiency, water reuse, and stormwater capture, approval of $100 million for water transfers in 2023, a briefing on Delta operations, and an update on the water supply and demand balance for 2023.

At the beginning of the meeting, Chair Quinn commented on the work of the new Committee.  “One water is more than just integrating a portfolio of supplies and demand management strategies,” she said.  “As we look to adapt to climate change and see how our precipitation patterns are changing, it also means that we need to do a better job coordinating across service area boundaries.  One water also means understanding who is benefiting from and being harmed by each strategy we consider because one water is also about equity, affordability, and environmental impact.”

We must all recognize that our water system, both the physical infrastructure and the laws that guide us, were designed for a climate that no longer exists.  As the LA Times editorial board noted in an article last week, the amount of water that falls on California in any given decade really hasn’t changed much.  What has changed is that rain and snow now come on a less predictable schedule, leaving the living patterns, industries, infrastructure, and laws we created during the 20th century less suited for the realities of the 21st.  We have our work cut out for us in this Committee.  I look forward to creating a more resilient future for Southern California and a more equitable environment for our constituents through our work together.”

Presentation: The Untapped Potential of California’s Urban Water Supply

Heather Cooley, director of research at the Pacific Institute, gave a brief presentation on findings from an April 2022 report which quantified the potential additional water that could be gained through increased urban water efficiency, water reuse, and stormwater capture.

Ms. Cooley acknowledged that Southern California has made much progress in reducing water use and augmenting local supplies, noting that water use across Metropolitan’s service area is nearly the same as it was in the mid-1970s despite significant population and economic growth.  Additionally, the region has increased its use of recycled water and other local water sources, reducing reliance on imported water.  Southern California’s water supply challenges would be much worse without these efforts.   However, their research shows much more can be done.

The report evaluated the potential for increased water efficiency, water reuse, and stormwater capture using existing technologies and practices statewide.  Ms. Cooley’s presentation focused on their findings for the South Coast region, which includes Metropolitan’s service area and other areas in Southern California.

She noted that the results are ‘snapshots’ of what’s possible with today’s technologies and practices.  Also, the study did not consider changing behaviors, such as taking shorter showers or under-irrigating landscapes. 

Water efficiency

Two water-savings scenarios were developed for the analysis:  A moderate efficiency scenario based on full compliance with current standards for appliances and fixtures, landscapes (MWELO), and distribution leaks, and a high efficiency based on available leading-edge technologies and practices that use less water than devices meeting current standards.

Using the data reported for water use by water suppliers for 2017 to 2019 as a baseline, researchers found that statewide, increasing water efficiency could save 2 million to 3.1 million acre-feet per year, with the greatest potential in Southern California at 1.1 to 1.7 million acre-feet.  The opportunities included residential use, both indoor and outdoor, as well as commercial, industrial, and institutional (CII) water use. 

Water reuse

The assessment for water reuse potential was based on data reported to the State Water Board in 2020 on the volume of wastewater currently being discharged to land, the ocean, and inland waters.  

The South Coast region already recycles about 473,000 acre-feet of wastewater, which is about 29% of the wastewater generated in the region; an additional 100,000 acre-feet is reserved for instream flows and is not available for reuse.  Beyond that, they estimate that increasing water recycling could produce an additional 1.1 million acre-feet.

Stormwater capture

For determining stormwater capture potential, they developed estimates based on impervious surfaces in urban areas across the state, focusing on areas overlying public supply aquifers in wet, moderate, and dry precipitation scenarios.

With its large expanses of impervious surfaces, Southern California has the greatest potential for stormwater capture, ranging from about 260,000 acre-feet in a dry year to up to 1.4 million acre-feet in a wet year.

Statewide results

This figure shows the results in the state’s ten hydrologic regions.  While the research found potential for each of these strategies across the state, the South Coast region has the largest resource potential because of its population, economic activity, and landscape with extensive impervious surfaces.

Multiple benefits

These strategies can provide not only water supply benefits but other co-benefits as well.  Each of the strategies identified has a range of potential co-benefits.  For example, besides augmenting water supplies, stormwater capture can reduce flood risk improve water quality, and enhance the environment and community livability.

Ms. Cooley pointed out the energy and greenhouse gas emissions benefits as important to meeting the state’s climate goals.  A 2021 Pacific Institute study found that reducing demand through water efficiency improvements and reducing imported water through water reuse and stormwater capture is critical for the state to meet its energy and greenhouse gas goals.

These co-benefits point to opportunities for partnerships and collaborations, as well as for sharing the cost to implement these strategies,” she said.  “We know that none of these strategies are free; implementing them has significant costs.  But the fact that they provide co-benefits and additional beneficiaries highlight some opportunities for partnering, leveraging resources, and garnering greater public support.”

Recommendations for Metropolitan

Ms. Cooley then closed with some recommendations for Metropolitan:

  • Increase investment:  Quantifying opportunities is an important first step, but then policies, programs, and investments need to be aligned to realize those opportunities.  Investments need to be made.  In particular, she noted there are opportunities for increasing water efficiency and water loss control programs to levels consistent with other water supply investments.
  • Underserved communities:  Programs targeting underserved communities should be expanded through partnerships with energy groups, NGOs, and community groups.  Rebates are only effective for some customers; targeted programs for underserved communities will help realize the savings and support equity.
  • Continue support for the ban on non-functional turf and continue conversions to California-friendly gardens, which is critical for realizing the savings potential and making communities more resilient.
  • Prioritize multi-benefit recycled water and stormwater capture projects to galvanize support and leverage co-funding for the investments.

Committee approves $100 million for water transfers

The Committee approved a resolution authorizing the General Manager to secure one-year transfers with various water districts for up to $100 million and to secure storage and conveyance agreements with the Department of Water Resources and other water districts to facilitate these transfers.

Staff noted that typically, Metropolitan works with State Water Contractors through the dry year transfer program, which focuses on the Feather River Basin to secure water transfers through the fallowing of rice fields.  However, given the dry conditions on the State Water Project and the challenges on the Colorado River, staff felt that working only through the Dry Year Transfer Program wasn’t aggressive enough to meet the needs of the State Water Project dependent areas, nor would it meet the intent of Board’s direction to staff.

So for 2023, staff reaching out to potential partners north of Delta, south of Delta, the San Joaquin Valley, and private entities statewide.  Staff’s request was for $100 million as a maximum to acquire transfer supply rather than placing a cap on an amount on an acre-foot basis.   Staff estimates between 10,000 – 60,000 acre-feet will be available this year, but that could be significantly impacted if there are curtailments.  Staff is also working with the San Diego County Water Authority and the Yuba Water Agency for transfer supplies at similar amounts to last year.

We continue discussions with potential partners across the state, and we wanted to come to you early and send a strong signal to our partners that we are serious about committing to purchasing supplies, even if it gets a little wet up there,” said Kira Alonzo, Team Manager.

Delta Operations

George Nishikawa, a resource specialist from Metropolitan’s Bay Delta Initiatives, gave a brief presentation on the regulations governing Bay-Delta operations.

Regulatory frameworks

There are three permits and standards that govern water project operations:

  • The 2019 federal biological opinions under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), which deal with upstream Shasta Reservoir operations, export constraints, and Delta outflow
  • The 2020 state Incidental Take Permit related to the California Endangered Species Act (or CESA) has some overlap with the federal biological opinions, but key differences including additional outflow requirements and mitigation
  • Water rights decision D-1641 for the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan (Clean Water Act) has requirements for water quality objectives and salinity in particular.

All these together create a regulatory framework with significant overlap between regulations that aims to protect the environment and water quality of the Bay-Delta,” said Mr. Nishikawa.  “It’s important to note that changes in one set of regulations will affect the regulatory framework and consequently the delivery capability of the State Water Project.”

Around this time of the year, especially when Delta inflows are low, usually the Delta water quality standards, including minimum net Delta outflow, are in force.  However, with the heavy precipitation recently, the export/inflow ratio limited Delta exports to a percentage of total Delta inflow; the Old and Middle River (OMR) reverse flow controlled Delta operations.

The Old and Middle Rivers, tributaries to the San Joaquin, flow northwest into the Delta.  When the State Water Project and Central Valley Project pumps are drawing water from the South Delta, they can reverse the flow of these rivers.  On New Year’s Eve, both the flow and turbidity thresholds were met to trigger early winter pulse protection, also known as the first flush.  This action is intended to protect Delta smelt by preventing them from entering the central Delta as they expand their distribution.  This action constrains exports by limiting OMR to minus 2000 CFS for 14 days.

So when it comes to regulations in the Bay Delta, alignment really is foundational,” said Mr. Nishikawa.  “If regulations are not in sync and are in conflict, then undue burdens can be placed on either the Central Valley or State Water Projects.  But when regulations are aligned, the projects can operate cooperatively to meet environmental and water supply needs.”

Reinitiation of Consultation for the Long-Term Operation of the CVP and SWP

In January of 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order 13990, which directed all federal agencies to immediately review federal regulations and other actions during the last four years.  Eight months later, the United States Bureau of Reclamation requested reinitiation for the 2019 biological opinions.  Since then, the Bureau has been working to develop the biological assessment and satisfy requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (or NEPA).  Metropolitan has been involved as a public water agency under the WIIN Act and requested involvement as a cooperating agency under NEPA and designated non-federal representative under ESA.

The public draft environmental impact statement and a biological assessment are expected in March of 2023, with a final EIS and biological opinions by the end of 2023, with a Record of Decision in February 2024.  The state Incidental Take Permit is expected to follow a similar concurrent timeline.

One of the key issues that Metropolitan is tracking in this process is ensuring consistency between state and federal permits,” said Mr. Nishikawa.  “This was an issue with the 2019 biological opinions and 2020 incidental take permit.  As a reminder, there is still ongoing dispute, and last year, both projects operated to a court-ordered interim operations plan.  We’re also looking to ensure that obligations are properly assigned and being met by the two projects without the potential for backstopping, meaning that each project is mitigating its own effects of operations.  And lastly, we’re also monitoring the incorporation of voluntary agreement outflow commitments.”

Voluntary agreements

The voluntary agreements are an alternative approach to implementing proposed amendments to the Bay-Delta water quality control plan through various tools other than mandated flow requirements alone. 

The voluntary agreements provide regulatory certainty and more supply reliability,” said Mr. Nishikawa.  “They provide environmental flows, more than 45,000 acres of habitat, and food production for fish.  They have nearly 3 billion in funding from multiple sources, including state, federal, and public water agencies and NGOs in their governance.  Metropolitan signed a memorandum of understanding in March of 22, and later in May of 2022, the Board voted to express support for the voluntary agreement process.

Since the MOU was initially signed last year, the voluntary agreements have been gaining momentum.  In addition to the 16 initial signatories, nine additional agencies have signed on over the last few months, the most recent being Tuolumne River agencies in November of 2022.

As for the timeline, in early January 2023, the State Water Board released a draft scientific basis report for the voluntary agreements and held a workshop.  The State Water Board plans to continue engaging the public via workshops and public comments.  By this fall, it is anticipated that a final voluntary agreement package will be submitted to the Board, which will then be reviewed and a final decision issued.

SoCal water supply update

The current water supply estimate for 2023 is approximately 1.13 million acre-feet, which includes the current Colorado River Aqueduct estimate adjusted for higher priority use, the 5% State Water Project allocation, and the current human health and safety allocation of around 195,000 acre-feet.  Current demand for 2023 is estimated to be about 1.71 million acre-feet.  This leaves a gap of 574,000 acre-feet.

Noosha Razavian, Associate Resource Specialist, noted that Metropolitan is making every effort possible to pursue available supplies and to provide them as equitably as possible.  These actions include actively seeking additional transfer supplies, balancing the use of available imported supplies from both the State Water Project and Colorado River, and continuing to utilize storage assets to satisfy current and future year demands.

The first snow survey was conducted earlier this month, showing that the December storms provided a terrific start to the season.  However, the State Water Project allocation remains at 5%.  DWR plans to release its allocation study later this month, which will hopefully reflect recent storms.  The snowpack is robust, and rainfall totals are significantly above normal.

Metropolitan remains cautiously optimistic at this time because, as we experienced last year, while December received record precipitation, we soon experienced the driest January through March on record,” she said.  “So we still have a long way to go.

The abundant precipitation has boosted levels in Lake Oroville, but it’s a long way to go before it’s filled.  The storms will put the level over 1.6 million acre-feet, which is the level DWR projects is enough to satisfy the regulatory requirements, and other non-State Water Project contractor needs. 

We’ll see what this all means for the State Water Project allocation when the department releases their next allocation study later this month,” she said.

Emergency Water Conservation Program

From June to December 2022, the State Water Project-dependent area’s water use stayed below the projected demand and the volumetric limits.  The dependent area as a whole used around 243,000 acre-feet of water during that period, which was about 3% below the total volumetric limit for 2022.

Metropolitan is continuing the Emergency Water Conservation Program through June 30 of this year due to the current State Water Project supply conditions.  The 2023 emergency water conservation program will follow the same framework approved by the Board in 2022.  Still, new volumetric limits have been developed for January through June that will fluctuate depending on hydrologic conditions, available supplies, and other operational limitations.

Metropolitan continues to monitor the changing conditions, and we will update the volumetric limits on a monthly basis as the supplies become more or less available,” said Ms. Razavain.  “If supply conditions warrant the continuation of the program through the end of the year, we will seek your board’s approval come April 2023.”

Metropolitan is considering implementing a region-wide water supply allocation plan in July of this year, although staff continues to monitor hydrologic conditions to determine if it will be needed for this fiscal year.  Staff is also holding coordination meetings with member agencies to prepare for potential implementation in 2023.

Click here for the Water Surplus and Drought Management Update staff report.

Other notes from the meeting …


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