Climate change and California’s dwindling water supply has officials statewide and at home rethinking urban water use amid a multistate battle for rights to the Colorado River’s stock, as drought patterns indicate that another dry season could be coming soon.
Burbank water officials are workshopping new rules for residential and commercial users that would lead to expanded water savings. BWP’s focus is on consistently conserving water by limiting outdoor watering on a scale depending on times where water is particularly scarce. The agency also plans to levy fines for overuse which would scale in cost depending on how many violations an offender has, officials told the Leader.
The city has already made serious strides over the past two decades in limiting water use. In 1970, Burbankers used about 24 million gallons per day. In 2008, the city passed its first sustainable water use ordinance. Today, water demand is down to less than 12 million gallons per day, despite an increased population.
“But there’s still more water we can save,” said Richard Wilson, assistant general manager of water for BWP, in an interview with the Leader. “Switching to native plants can save even more water, and that’s just one example. How much lower can we go? We won’t know until we try.”
Investments in technology to enhance Burbank’s water system may also be on the horizon, with officials focusing on low-flow irrigation, irrigation controllers and soil moisture sensors to avoid unnecessary watering.
Burbank officials are already counting on cuts from the Colorado River and the State Water Project — Northern California’s groundwater supply — as drought conditions are expected to trend back upward, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System.
Burbank gets all its water supplies from sources outside of Southern California.
Fierce regional debates are taking place over the next few years over allocations from the Colorado River, with California vying for the largest percentage. Each district in the state has its own supply concerns, and water negotiators must strike a balance between agricultural and urban stakeholders.
State solutions to the water crises and the housing shortage are at odds with one another, said Wilson, as Sacramento seeks to levy fines for increased water use while also mandating massive increases in housing supply, which will inevitably lead to spikes in water demand.
“We are being ordered by the state to build more housing, but they’re also telling us to use less water. We’re being asked to cut back but we’re also building on a huge scale. The state is requiring that this be done. They’re telling us to cut back but adding more people. That doesn’t make sense,” said Wilson.
Legislation being considered in the state senate would make conservation the California way of life, Wilson said. It would set increased targets for water use in anticipation that more reductions coming. BWP and water agencies around the state are giving input to make sure smaller agencies aren’t punished for following the rules.
“What it does is it sort of sets us on a path of the city having a water budget, not individual customers,” said Wilson. “And if you don’t meet the budget, the city would face fines. So, they put the onus on the cities to stay within their budget.”
In Burbank, consistent water savings are far more important than only trying to conserve when conditions are dry. That’s because Burbank doesn’t possess rights to its own groundwater, after a 1979 lawsuit that directed the city to hand over the rights of Burbank’s native groundwater supply to Los Angeles.
As a result, Burbank purchases all its water from the Metropolitan Water District and stores it in spreading grounds.
“For our long-term storage, it’s the water in the ground. And because it’s been purchased over time, if you do dollar-cost averaging, it’s the cheapest water that we have. So, we try to maximize the use of that water as opposed to spreading new water,” Wilson said.
Water that’s already purchased and stored will cost BWP, and by association residents and businesses, far less over time.
“It’s very important that we make a concerted effort to conserve those resources every day,” said Wilson.
“What if something unforeseen happens and we can’t spread water into storage. You have got to have the water in the ground so that when things like that happen, it’s there. And how do you keep that water in the ground? Well, you purchase it when it’s available, and you conserve,” said Wilson. “Conservation is a form of supply.”
First published in the February 3 print issue of the Burbank Leader.