The Metropolitan Water District is collaborating with water districts in Nevada and Arizona to advance a large recycling project.
By Adel Hagekhalil, Special to CalMatters
Adel Hagekhalil is the general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
The Colorado is the second largest river that California depends on, second only to the Sacramento. Its enormous challenges tend to fall into the policy shadows in the Capitol’s water discussions. But climate change is rapidly reducing flows in this important river and that requires bold action.
Policymakers in Sacramento have a rare and golden opportunity to be part of a historic collaborative effort toward a broader solution.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is merging forces with urban water districts representing Southern Nevada and Central Arizona to advance one of the nation’s largest recycling projects, located in the city of Carson. Seed funding from Sacramento could help accelerate efforts to build this local supply project that would produce enough high-quality water for 500,000 families for a year, far bigger than any Southland recycling or desalination project that’s been built to date.
This project represents the rapid adaptation to climate change that California needs, and the collaboration necessary to do it. Neighboring states would invest hundreds of millions of dollars in our state, creating jobs, as we address the river’s imbalance between supplies and demands that threatens the Southwest economy.
The Colorado is arguably the nation’s hardest working river, sustaining seven western states as well as the Republic of Mexico. Metropolitan’s aqueduct has been serving Southern California since 1941.
Simply put, today’s reliance on the Colorado is unsustainable, and time is running out.
Diminishing water supplies mean the Colorado River will only be able to meet roughly two-thirds of its promised allocations, resulting in significant cuts by water users. That is a daunting challenge. Yet the pain of future cuts can be offset somewhat by new future supplies. And for communities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas or Phoenix, running out of water simply is not an option.
A potential new water supply is now managed by the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, which discharges about 260 million gallons a day of treated wastewater into the Pacific Ocean. Metropolitan, in partnership with the district, is conducting an environmental review to purify most of this water, distribute it to groundwater basins and ultimately deliver it as treated water to numerous Southland communities.
The partnership calls for Metropolitan to provide some of its Colorado supply to the neighboring states of Nevada and Arizona with water benefits in proportion to their investments – perhaps up to 30%. It will cost more than our traditional imported supplies, but they are decreasing and new supplies are absolutely critical.
Southern California would have a new drought-proof source of supply, something that is in the entire state’s interest. This is akin to a missing piece in our puzzle. By putting them all together with an emphasis on more local supplies and more conservation through a new “One Water” vision of the region’s future.
Think of support from the state of California as an investment in our future.
Expediting this project not only helps the state by creating a drought-proof sustainable supply of high-quality water, but it also benefits 40 million residents throughout the Southwest. It incentivizes the kind of new and bold solutions to water we desperately need. It helps California stay in the lead of the climate adaptation agenda. A historic partnership opportunity awaits Sacramento policymakers.