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Is California’s Water Saving Plan Detrimental? June 12, 2009

Posted by Kevin Collier in Uncategorized.
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I recently read an article in the June 8th edition of The Los Angeles Business Journal entitled “Consumed by State’s Conservation Plan.” In the article, co-authors Wayne Lusvardi and David Powell respond to the current trend of mandatory water use reductions enacted all over California. According to Lusvardi and Powell, reduction of water use on lawns means less water in the soil, essentially costing more money to maintain in the long run.

They go on to say that mandatory reductions could essentially rise too high if current drought trends continue, forcing people to give up nice lawns and swimming pools immediately, in order to meet the demands. The long term effects of less groundwater are evident; we will become more dependent on water from outside sources, which is much more expensive than water from irrigation runoff.

The article describes the apperent hypocrisy of the cities’ “go green” mentality in their lack of planning. They say the cities with proposed water reductions fail to file environmental impact reports with the California Environmental Quality Act.

Their proposal: All cities charging higher rates to their water customers should use that extra cash flow to create more water stations that utilize groundwater recycled from landscapes. The authors suggest that the water cuts were rash decisions made in emergency mode and short sighted. They think the cities that proposed these plans need to think of the long-term ramifications before implementing water rate increases and use reductions.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree with Lusvardi and Powell’s suggestions? I would very much like to hear your thoughts on this article.



1. David Isaacson - June 16, 2009

This article is the worst kind of disinformation. First, to claim that landscape irrigation is a major source of groundwater recharge is pretty far-fetched. Irrigation water in urban landscapes does not penetrate deeply enough into the ground to add significantly to groundwater basins. It is far more likely to be lost to evapotranspiration (evaporation from the ground and transpiration from plants).

Second, landscape irrigation water also too often ends up running off the landscape due to overwatering, and this runoff mostly ends up in the storm water system leading to the ocean, not to recharging groundwater.

Third, if cities are truly reliant on pumping groundwater, then placing restrictions on water use will reduce the amount of water being pumped in the first place, so the tiny amount that might make its way from your lawn back to the groundwater basin won’t be missed.

Last, to claim that cities or water agencies are remiss for not doing Environmental Impact Reports on their water conservation plans, I have to reply that the original environmental sin here was to allow millions of people to move to a desert, pave half of it and plant the other half with non-native vegetation that requires an unsustainable amount of water to be sucked out of the earth.

2. Wayne Lusvardi - June 21, 2009

Mr. Isaacson: May we inquire what are your qualifications to make the above assertions that Mr. Powell and my statements are “disinformation?” Mr. Powell, P.E., (Cal-Tech), formerly water resources engineer for the California Dept. of Water Resources, Bookman-Edmonston Engineering, among many other eminent qualifications, has rendered a preliminary profession opinion about the Raymond Basin in Pasadena and the plausibility of conservation resulting in lack of recharge to the basin and, thus, its likely eventual depletion. What do you know about the Raymond Basin, one of the most studied and adjudicated aquifers in the U.S.? In addition to Mr. Powell’s preliminary professional opinion allow me to give you some anecdotal information. Part of the Raymond Basin includes area under the City of La Canada. When La Canada shifted from septic systems and leech fields to sewers the water table dropped precipitously. This was an historical indicator to what could happen when mandated water conservation is implemented. In addition, mathematical hydrological models previously conducted in the Raymond Basin indicate that the City of Pasadena has been overdrafting the basin beyond its safe yield level for quite some time. Moreover, an impartial study conducted by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California indicated that a significant percentage of landscape irrigation beyond evaporation losses was necessary to recharge the Raymond Basin to safe yield level. Were you aware of such “information” before your rash statement that Mr. Powell’s opinion was “disinformation?” If not, may we ask you for the professional courtesy of recanting your statement?

David - June 22, 2009

Mr. Lusvardi,

Please accept my apologies for characterizing your statements and those of Mr. Powell as “disinformation”. That implies a deliberate intent to mislead people, and I have no evidence to support that suggestion. I do not have professional qualifications equal to Mr. Powell’s, and cannot dispute his knowledge of hydrology or other engineering disciplines. I do have several years of direct experience with water conservation programs, including those that attempt to reduce wasteful landscape irrigation, both as a field inspector of landscape irrigation systems and as a program manager.

What I do know for certain is that water issues in California are rarely simple and usually contentious. I would prefer to have a constructive exchange of views and information rather than an acrimonious debate, so please forgive the condemning tone in my initial comments on your article. I would welcome being enlightened on any research studies of which you are aware, related to this issue. In the meantime, I still respectfully disagree with some of the logic and conclusions contained in your piece.

In the article, you state that “A large portion of the allowed pumping from most groundwater basins comes mainly from the return to the water basin of water used for landscaping.” I would very much like to see a reference source for this statement. Granted, it makes sense that a certain percentage of the water used in suburban landscape irrigation will eventually work its way into the groundwater basin. Certainly this “return flow” should be quantified and taken into consideration in any water management planning effort. Perhaps it already has, as you also state in your response to my comment that “an impartial study conducted by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California indicated that a significant percentage of landscape irrigation beyond evaporation losses was necessary to recharge the Raymond Basin to safe yield level”. Exactly how much is “a large portion” or “a significant percentage”?

With my admittedly limited layman’s knowledge of hydrology and the water cycle, and a significant hands-on awareness of landscape irrigation waste through my work with water conservation programs, I believe that only “excessive” irrigation water (anything beyond the evapotranspiration needs of the plants) could serve to recharge groundwater, and only a fairly small percentage of the excess at that. Anyone who has ever seen water spilling over driveways and sidewalks into the gutter from sprinkler runoff can figure out that most or all of that water will be lost to evaporation or to the storm water system and will never reach the groundwater table. Also, I suspect that the compacted clay soils typically found in Southern California suburban neighborhoods do not allow for a great deal of surface water percolation into aquifers.

Regardless of the quantity of water being returned to the basin as a result of excessive irrigation, where did that water come from in the first place? If it was pumped from the basin, then it is simply being recycled and would require far less energy and effort to simply avoid pumping it in the first place. If the source is water imported from elsewhere (such as the State Water Project), then wasting that water on excessive irrigation makes even less sense (due to the cost of transporting and treating that water). Direct recharge of the groundwater basin with imported water, and/or diversion of storm water into recharge basins makes far more sense economically and environmentally than relying on wasteful landscape irrigation to do the job.

Finally, in your response you say “mathematical hydrological models previously conducted in the Raymond Basin indicate that the City of Pasadena has been overdrafting the basin beyond its safe yield level for quite some time”. To me, the only logical response to that situation is to stop the overdrafting of the basin and find more sustainable ways to meet the water needs of the local population, including aggressive conservation. To concede your basic point though, I agree that there are often unintended consequences to government management plans, so we should be as aware as possible of any adverse future effects from our actions.

Thank you for engaging in a dialogue, and again, please forgive me for any offense caused by my earlier comments.

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