Water Conservation Should Remain a Priority, Council Told

Charles Trevino (at podium), South Pasadena’s representative on the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, and General Manager Tom Love report to the City Council and the community on the state of the district and the local water supply at City Hall on July 17. Photo by Skye Hannah.

Statewide, many consider the drought over. The water emergency was lifted in most counties two years ago. Record rainfalls in Northern California have brought water supplies up to acceptable levels.

Locally, however, “It’s not as good as the state,” said Tom Love, general manager of the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District (Upper District).

Love announced this during a presentation on the local water supply and the state of the Upper District at the July 17 City Council meeting.

Charles Trevino, South Pasadena’s elected representative for the Upper District, also presented. Both answered questions from the council.

The Upper District is a regional water wholesaler for the San Gabriel Valley, Trevino said before introducing Love.

“The district’s primary responsibility,” he said, “is to provide imported water from the Bay Delta through connections with the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) to help replenish the groundwater basin.”

South Pasadena and neighboring cities have their own underground aquifer. Water is pumped to residences and businesses.

“Think of it as a gigantic bathtub from Claremont/Montclair to La Canada to Rosemead,” Love said. The Upper District serves this area, he said, which covers a population of almost a million residents. Its headquarters is in Monrovia. The district is governed by five directors, he explained.

Love said that 80 percent of the district’s water supply is local, 20 percent imported. Water from outside the area “comes from the State Water Project and a little from the Colorado River,” he said.

The State Water Project is a water storage and delivery system of reservoirs, aqueducts, power plants and pumping plants extending two-thirds the length of the state, according to the website of the California Department of Water Resources. This is the agency that administers the system.

Although the water supply in Southern California has improved, both officials said much is left to do.

“As our groundwater basin is slowly recovering from the recent drought,” said Trevino, “conservation is a way of life and will continue to be so.”

“We must continue to promote water efficiency,” he said.

Toward that end in South Pasadena, Trevino said, the Upper District has “worked with city staff on retrofitting 14 sites under our large landscape survey and retrofitting program.”

“We have converted high-water-use landscapes and street medians to drought-tolerant landscapes,” he said.

The Upper District has also distributed free rain barrels and conservation materials, he said.

“Water education programs are offered to school districts,” he added.

Love commended the public for its water-conservation efforts.

“We are currently at record-low water consumption in Southern California,” he said.

Additionally, Love reported that the Upper District has been able to anticipate future drought conditions.

“We can breathe a slight sign of relief,” Love said about currently available water supplies, “but we know the next drought may be longer and more severe.”

He said the rainfall for the past 10 years is still 20 percent less than the average rainfall.

A plan has been approved to prepare for the future, Love said.

MWD is looking for places to store water resulting from heavy rains in Northern California in 2018 and 2019, Trevino said after the meeting.

“We’ve been fortunate enough that MWD has committed to storing water in our basin, up to 100,000 acre-feet,” he said.

An acre-foot, he explained, is the amount of water that would cover the entire field of the Rose Bowl at a depth of one foot.

About 36,000 acre-feet have already been received, and another 50,000 will be purchased, he said.

“We’ve never had this arrangement with MWD before,” Trevino said at the meeting. “This is groundbreaking for us.”

“The agency that regulates how much water can be pumped out of the basin has made a commitment to set aside $40 million to purchase water over five years,” he said after the meeting. “The Upper District is signing off on the agreement.”

“It’s an advance delivery to get additional water in the basin and to improve the health of the basin,” Love said.

Love thanked Trevino for his leadership in helping make this possible. “We can pay for it over time,” Love said.

Trevino said this payment-plan arrangement with MWD is a first.

Another major Upper District initiative is to maximize the use of recycled water.

MWD is making a major investment in that possibility, Trevino said, and many districts will benefit.

Trevino is the Upper District’s representative on the MWD board.

“MWD is making an investment of $3.4 billion to do a massive recycling project, Trevino said after the meeting.

“This involves purchasing water from the County Sanitation Districts, treating it, and then injecting it into many basins,” he said. “This type of commitment is unprecedented.”

“With that recycled water, and groundwater here at the basin and wells,” Trevino said, “we will be able to sustain ourselves.”

Love predicted that in the future, the region “could get off imported water.”

Information about the Upper District and its programs can be obtained on its website, https://upperdistrict.org.