Ron Wildermuth has been a Public Information and Conservation Manager for West Basin Municipal Water District since 2008. He is a retired Navy Captain and was a public relations advisor to Gen Schwarzkopf during the Gulf War, and then worked for the Parsons Corporation and for the Orange County Water District.
The West Basin District was formed in 1947 by local cities to manage a declining water table and overreliance on groundwater. In addition to Palos Verdes, the West Basin’s service area includes Carson and most of the cities south of the Los Angeles Airport (except Torrance), and Inglewood, Culver City, West Hollywood and Malibu. It distributes 220,000 acre-feet of water annually. (An acre foot is 326,000 gallons, the amount used by two average families in one year.) It is a member of the Metropolitan Water District that imports water into Southern California.
California reservoirs are at only 30-50% of capacity; it would require 20 of the recent storms to replenish them. We have been in a drought for four years. The 20th century was one of the wettest centuries in the last 4000 years, and this “wet” weather may not last. Wells are removing water from the ground for agriculture without replacement, causing the Central Valley surface to drop 30 feet. More wells and deeper wells are being drilled there, but this is only a short-term solution.
In recent years, we imported 63% of our local water sources, but imports are now down to 54%, with 21% groundwater, 10% desalination, 8% recycled, and 7% conservation. By 2020, imported water may be only 38%, with the remainder made up by recycled and desalination water and increased efficiency. Usually, half of our imported water comes from Northern California (which was zero last year due to drought), and half from the Colorado River (which will decrease due to legal reallocation and increasing drought). The San Andreas Fault runs under the Los Angeles Aqueduct from the Eastern Sierra Nevada, and an earthquake fault is also under the San Joaquin Delta levees, which are over 100 years old and could fail massively in an earthquake there, cutting off that source of water.
53% of our household water use goes for landscaping and outdoor uses, 20% for toilet flushes, 20% for showers and 18% for leaks inside homes. With conservation, we are using less water per capita here than in Northern California. Palm Springs, with big desert lawns and golf courses, gulps down 5 times as much per capita as Los Angeles residents. In the Central Valley, many of the homes didn’t have water meters until recently. Over 80% of all developed water in California is used for agricultural purposes (for 2% of the state’s gross domestic product). Urban users consume 10%, and industry receives the rest.
Drawing out too much groundwater near the coast causes seawater to migrate into the groundwater basin, so West Basin provides recycled water for injection into the South Bay’s seawater barriers. In the early 1990s, West Basin started recycling waste-water. In 2000, the Water Recycling Facility expanded its capacity of microfiltration and reverse osmosis, and has become the largest facility of its type in the US, producing 8 billion gallons of recycled water per year.
$11 billion has been spent in the last 2 decades to provide new water storage underground and in Lake Mead. West Basin is also exploring potential ocean-water desalination to create more reliable local sources of drinking water and to reduce dependence on diminishing and earthquake-threatened imported water resources from the San Joaquin Delta and the Colorado River. In 2002 it began a 10 gallon/minute ocean-water desalination pilot facility in El Segundo, and in 2010 it began a demonstration desalination facility in Redondo Beach.
We are facing climate change with increasing drought and decreasing Sierra snowpack, and the certainty of sudden earthquake disruptions in our imported supplies. We need to increase our underground water storage, capture more of our storm water runoff, reduce pollution contamination in runoff, clean polluted groundwater, increase recycling of waste-water, and increase desalination production. We need to increase our water efficiency (the cheapest water source) and educate our people on the need to work together to improve future water reliability. These changes will not be cheap or easy, but they are vital to assure our future economic survival.