How can residential developers provide desperately needed housing for Southern California if they can’t secure the water supply to support new growth?
In a survey released this week by the Building Industry Association of Southern California, Baldy View Chapter, that question underpinned the answers from more than 500 respondents in San Bernardino County, a place considered primed for lower-cost housing units.
“Water has become a paramount concern as the BIA attempts to address San Bernardino County’s estimated housing shortage of 65,000 units,” said Carlos Rodriguez, chief executive officer of the BIA Baldy View Chapter in a prepared statement.
One way to increase potable water supplies is by recycling water.
Recycling wastewater from sewage treatment plants for supplementing ground water supplies was supported by 70.3 percent of those surveyed, a strong indication that the old days of being concerned about the marketing aspects of so-called “toilet-to-tap” programs are over.
The acceptance may stem from numerous programs already in place.
Orange County Water District, the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts and the Water Replenishment District of Southern California all are recycling wastewater and adding it to ground water, where wells pump water, and after further treatment it is served to residential and business customers through existing pipelines.
“I”m heartened by the survey response,” said Robb Whitaker, general manager of WRD, the largest groundwater agency in the state serving four million people in a 420-square-mile region in southern Los Angeles County. “The survey results show more people are realizing the importance of re-using water.”
In addition, 84 percent supported development of new water storage projects that would capture rain water. Also, 86 percent favored ground-water banking, similar to projects in Arizona in which water is piped from far-away aquifers or the Colorado River for underground storage.
Sixty-eight percent of respondents supported development of new water sources to meet current and future housing needs, a response indicating people want to see new housing for their children, grandchildren or themselves to live in.
While the San Bernardino County residents want to see new projects that are often costly, this flies in the face of respondents saying they don’t want to see water rates rise any more. California has some of the highest water rates in the nation.
One answer is state funding. The WRD is building a $107-million recycled water plant in Pico Rivera set to open early next year that received an $80 million loan from the State Water Resources Control Board and a $15 million grant from Proposition 1 water bond adopted by voters in 2014.
Still, these projects, including desalination of sea water, not mentioned in the survey, are extremely costly. And most of the obvious projects have been built, Whitaker said.
“The Earth is not creating new water molecules. We should reuse water whenever possible. What the survey is saying is that people are viewing recycled water as a new source,” Whitaker said.
New storm-water capture projects are terribly expensive, he said. They also go against flood control objectives, whereby concreted rivers funnel street water away from neighborhoods and into the oceans.
“You would have to stop a lot of water in a short period of time and hold that water for a long period of time. Our region is so urbanized you can’t find a place available for that (a large reservoir),” Whitaker said.
In the Santa Ana and San Gabriel rivers, soft-bottom stretches and rubber dams pool storm water and allow it to seep into the thirsty aquifers. In many cases, more than 90 percent is already captured.
“So in the Inland Empire and San Gabriel Valleys, for example, you are left with minute amounts of water. Large stormwater capture off our streets is the most expensive option,” said Adan Ortega, executive director of the California Association of Mutual Water Companies and water consultant to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and other water districts.
Low-tech, individual conservation efforts are favored by nonprofits and other water experts.
In Australia, almost every home has a cistern, a larger version of a rain barrel that captures 648 gallons of rain from a one-inch storm off a 1,000 square foot roof, said Conner Everts, executive director of the Southern California Watershed Alliance.
“There are individual programs where people can do it on an individual level,” he said, adding that rebates for cisterns and rain barrels are offered by Metropolitan and local water districts.
Larger scale storm water capture has been installed beneath the Santa Monica Library (200,000 gallon tank) and the nonprofit TreePeople headquarters (210,000 gallon tank), he said.
“People want to save water, not agencies. If you give them the tools and opportunities they will do things,” Everts said.
A majority favored making permanent certain water conservation measures. More than 50 percent wanted a ban on watering of medians and shared green spaces with fresh water (can use recycled water); 68 percent wanted no hosing down of sidewalks or driveways.
“I’d like to think our messaging during the drought helped,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the SWRCB that implemented conservation measures during the past six-year drought. “It confirms what I would suspect.”
Permanent conservation measures are being considered in future rules, she said.
Practicing water conservation, i.e. by taking shorter showers or irrigating less lawn space, is considered a source of new water by the State Water Resources Control Board because every drop conserved equates to that much less water purchased or drawn from wells.
“Many still consider it the cheapest source of water,” Ortega said.
By Steve Scauzillo | email@example.com | San Gabriel Valley Tribune
PUBLISHED: May 31, 2018 at 10:34 am | UPDATED: May 31, 2018 at 3:53 pm