Water: Our Past, Present and Future

Letter to the Editor:

The City of South Pasadena will soon be looking at adjusting its water and sewer rates. Now, no one wants to pay more, especially for a vital item such as water, but it is important to have some background. Over a century ago, South Pasadena residents had the vision to know that water would be key for the city in order for it to grow and thus acquired water rights to the San Gabriel Valley Aquifer. Our city obtains almost all of its water from this water source.

The aquifer is like a natural underground reservoir and holds water that percolates into it from sources such as rainfall. The last five years have taken a terrible toll on the aquifer. The Watermaster, who has oversight of the aquifer, has the responsibility of making sure cities that obtain water from the aquifer do not draw more water than their allocation. The Watermaster also is responsible for maintaining the on-going “health” and stability of the aquifer. It was recently reported by the Watermaster that the aquifer is at its lowest level in recorded history.

One might ask, “How can this be, as we just had great rainfall last winter?” The answer is that our ground was so parched that rainfall runoff never made it to the aquifer and instead seeped into land closer to the mountains. The water never made it to the area where it could percolate into the aquifer. The result was that five years of drought conditions remain and our aquifer is dangerously low.

Just think about the City of San Diego. It needs to import all of its water today. The reason is that it had underground aquifers but drained them down to where they collapsed. Once an aquifer is gone, it cannot be restored.

In order to protect the San Gabriel Valley Aquifer and to make sure we do not lose this valuable resource, the Watermaster will be purchasing outside water to replenish the aquifer. This outside water is expensive and all cities that utilize the aquifer will need to contribute to pay for the cost of this water. The City of South Pasadena will need to support this purchased water, not just for one year, but for a number of years.

It is this expense that is contributing to the need to adjust our water rates, but the cost of protecting our water source is not the only factor impacting water costs. The City of South Pasadena is just like thousands of cities around the nation facing up to the fact that we have not taken care of our infrastructure. We have been living off investments made over a century ago. In the last few years we have been playing catch-up with the investment and building of the Garfield and Wilson Reservoirs, but there is more to do. We have the Graves Reservoir that needs modernization and our pipes need replacement.

The proposed rate adjustments are truly modest when the full scope of what is needed is reviewed. We are really just touching the “basics” of our water system. We should be addressing integrating more smart technology into our system, where all water services have “smart water meters.” This would allow for more “real time” use information. Water leaks would be detected and addressed more quickly and customers would have more information as to how much water they use and when they use it. However, “smart meters” are expensive and we need to focus on fixing the basics right now.

I know I don’t like paying more for anything if I don’t have to. But, I do remind myself that I lived with water rates that were pretty low for quite some time and even with the rate adjustments, our water rates will be reasonable and in-line with other area cities. Again, it should be noted that all of the cities that utilize the San Gabriel Valley Aquifer will need to contribute more financially to secure the aquifer.

We as a city should be proud that our forefathers had the vision to secure for us a reliable water source, miles from our borders, where we have an allocation of water at no cost, except the cost of transporting it into the city. We need to have the same vision of securing that water and our water system for future generations.

– Kim Hughes