Water Utilities Can Prosper In The Face Of Drought And Deficits

Report points to the power of conservation in preserving our water supplies.

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There is no doubt that the water industry faces significant challenges, from the huge price tag to upgrade and maintain existing infrastructure, to guaranteeing an adequate supply of the resource itself.

Depending on your geographic location, one of those issues may be far more pressing than the other. In some locales, both issues are ratcheting up the pressure on municipal utilities to deliver a product and service at rates that are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain.

One of the utilities featured in this month’s issue of MSW is the Anaheim Water Utility. Anaheim is located in Orange County, part of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and its water supply supports its citizens, a large industrial base and several large tourist destinations. It was the plentiful supply of water that attracted the area’s first settlers, and while Anaheim is doing great work to ensure an adequate supply of quality water for its customers, the entire state of California is experiencing a severe drought.

A recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Pacific Institute examines the large and growing gap between water use and the state’s available water supply. It is estimated that California suffers from a water deficit in excess of 6 million acre-feet. On average, the state diverts approximately 5 million acre-feet per year more from the Sacramento-San Joaquin watershed than can be sustained by the estuary, and it overdrafts groundwater by at least 1 to 2 million acre-feet annually. Excessive surface water diversions and groundwater overdrafts have led to shortages for some users, degraded ecosystems and compromised water quality. Drought conditions only add to the problem.

Those issues play out in many states, particularly across the West. In Anaheim, utility leaders have tried to combat potential problems through leak detection efforts, proactive maintenance, increasing available water supplies, enlarging storage capacity and improving pumping efficiency. The city is currently completing construction of a new high-capacity potable water well designed to replace two shallow wells. And conservation has also played a big role in ensuring an adequate water supply.

According to the NRDC and Pacific Institute report, California could be saving up to 14 million acre-feet of untapped water – providing more than the amount of water used in all of California’s cities in one year – with an aggressive statewide effort to use water-saving practices, reuse water and capture lost stormwater.

The report says wider adoption of modern irrigation practices could reduce agricultural water use by 5.6 to 6.6 million acre-feet annually. In urban areas, improved efficiency, stormwater capture and greater water reuse could save a total of 5.2 million to 7.1 million acre-feet per year, enough water to supply all of urban Southern California and still have water to help restore ecosystems and recharge aquifers.

You all know water utilities can’t accomplish all this on their own. Education may ultimately be the most important factor in developing a stronger conservation ethic that can help ensure the wells don’t go dry. So take advantage of every opportunity to teach your customers about where their water comes from and what they can do to keep it flowing for decades to come.

Enjoy this month’s issue.


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