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Water supply scarcity in Southern California

Published by USC Bedrosian Center on

(originally posted in The John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation 2011 and 2012 Report)

Hilda Blanco receives Haynes Foundation Grant

Hilda Blanco receives Haynes Foundation Grant

Water shortages are an unfortunate reality in Southern California, a desert region characterized by an arid climate, flash floods, and cyclical droughts. Beginning with the 1913 arrival of aqueduct water, the Los Angeles area has relied on water imports for a significant portion of its supply.

Among the key sources of imported water are the State Water Project and the Colorado River Aqueduct. Yet a key transportation vehicle, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, suffers from aging levees and environmental degradation. Climate change may further compromise the Delta’s reliability, according to Dr. Hilda Blanco, a research professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Cities at the University of Southern California.

With a $188,798 grant from the Haynes Foundation, Dr. Blanco and her research team sought to assess the effectiveness of recent conservation strategies developed by urban water districts in Southern California. They selected for study three cases from the Los Angeles metro area: The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (Los Angeles County); the Cucamonga Valley Water District and its wholesaler, the Inland Empire Utilities Agency (San Bernardino County); and Huntington Beach and the regional Municipal Water District of Orange County and the Orange County Water District (Orange County).

In conducting this analysis, the team identified and assessed the institutional, economic and land use factors at play in water management plans. The team then evaluated the plans’ cost-effectiveness and recommended a number of best practices for consideration by municipal, federal and state authorities.

At the state and federal levels, the researchers suggested: Developing a regional strategy for groundwater remediation; adding public-private partnerships as an option for new water supply projects; investing in technological innovation to accelerate outdoor water conservation; and considering negotiating complementary strategies to encourage water savings in both low density and high density developments.

The team also offered several specific recommendations for municipal water agencies, to include: Better integrating urban water management plans with overall urban planning; actively promoting conservation through the use of meters for indoor and outdoor water use; setting different rates to incentivize reductions in water use; offering rebates for conservation-friendly equipment; relying on less energy-intensive water sources; and considering the addition of climate change models into future conservation scenarios.

Hilda Blanco, Principal Investigator
University of Southern California

Bedrosian Center