SACRAMENTO, Calif.(AP) -- Water conservation is shaping up as one of the touchstone issues in CalFed's program to restore the Bay-Delta to ecological health and provide a more sufficient and reliable water supply.
Environmentalists in general say CalFed is underestimating the potential for new water supplies through conservation, and support aggressive water savings programs to forestall development of additional supplies by building new storage reservoirs.
California's major urban areas have already invested hundreds of millions of dollars in conservation programs, and many cities are using virtually the same amount of water they did 20 years ago despite significant population increases.
Water suppliers agree that more water can be wrung out of additional conservation, but believe current water quality and supply needs for fish and municipal uses cannot be met without developing more storage, let alone the demands of 16 million more Californians by the year 2000.
Now, two new proposals for extending urban water conservation will be discussed in a series of four workshops sponsored by CalFed. While the two proposals differ in how they would encourage conservation -- and penalize lackluster water-savings efforts -- overall they cover considerable common ground and would usher in an unprecedented new commitment to furthering efficient water use in the state's urban areas.
Under both proposals, urban water purveyors with more than 3,000 service connections would be required to implement the 14 best management practices (BMPs) listed by the California Urban Water Conservation Council (CUWCC). Their performance would be subject to review and certification by the CUWCC. Chronic non-compliance could result in loss of access to any new Delta water supplies, the inability to participate in either water transfers or any future drought water banks, and monetary fines.
CalFed has incorporated conservation as part of its overall water management strategy, which also includes water transfers, recycling, and developing new storage reservoirs. During the first few years of the CalFed program, while potential reservoir sites are scouted and their feasibility studied, an extensive commitment to conservation is expected. Program officials estimate nearly 1.3 million acre feet will be saved by additional conservation.
Before any permits would be issued to actually build new reservoirs, CalFed would assess whether water savings performance goals have been met, proceeding only if specific water quality, water supply reliability, and ecosystem goals have not been achieved despite adequate conservation.
Many of California's urban water providers have already essentially agreed to be bound by a landmark conservation agreement developed in 1991. The memorandum of understanding on best management practices (BMPs) for urban conservation lists the 14 conservation techniques that should be implemented unless the agency can show a particular BMP isn't cost-effective. BMPs include such actions as installing ultra-low-flush toilets in homes and businesses, conservation education programs, water efficiency audits of large turf and landscape areas, and metering.
Approximately 150 urban water agencies -- representing the vast majority of California's urban water use -- have signed the conservation MOU. Other signatories include most of the state's leading environmental interests and other interested parties. The agreement led to the creation of the CUWCC, a public forum for pursing the goals of the agreement and developing new conservation projects.
In 1996, the California Urban Water Agencies (CUWA) and the Environmental Water Caucus began negotiations to develop an assurance mechanism building upon the conservation agreement so that it could provide part of the overall CalFed Bay-Delta solution. Late last fall, those groups forwarded their proposal to CalFed for consideration.
"We felt it was better for us to collectively define a new standard for conservation performance rather than have some outside party develop it," noted Byron Buck, executive director of CUWA.
In the meantime, a wide variety of urban water purveyors, organized by representatives of Kern County Water Agency and Bear Valley Community Services District, grew concerned about certain aspects of the CUWA-EWC proposal as details emerged.
These concerns included proposals to require water wholesalers to play a role in compliance by any of their retail agencies. Also at issue is the calculation of the value of environmental benefits when determining the cost- effectiveness of any particular BMP.
"Our agency's position is that water conservation is good policy and an effective water management tool, but there has to be an objective and fair process for accomplishing it, " noted Mary Lou Cotton, a water resources planner with the Kern County Water Agency. "Quantification of environmental benefits is currently too subjective to provide clear-cut criteria for implementing BMPs and making certification dependent on that."
Saddling water wholesalers with additional requirements was also a matter of concern, Cotton said.
"Water wholesalers should not have to play a role in compliance by retailers, which could interfere with existing contractual agreements," Cotton noted. "Wholesalers should only be required to implement those BMPs already specific to them, such as leak detection and repair, public education programs, and waste prohibitions."
"The CUWWA/EWC group felt it was important for wholesale agencies diverting from the Delta watershed to assist their retailers in implementing BMPs and help assure compliance," Buck noted.
"Additionally, we wanted to develop provisions where wholesalers complied based on their own actions so that their ability to meet their region's water needs was not compromised by non-compliance of any one of their retailers."
Both approaches leave enforcement actions to CalFed. Cotton says that more positive inducements, such as financial assistance and technical planning, should be provided to agencies as incentives for compliance before sanctions can be considered.
Following the workshops, CalFed staff will review the discussion and synthesize the urban conservation portion of its water use efficiency program. The revised program will be included in the draft environmental documents for the overall program, set to be released this spring and subject to further public review and comment.
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