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R.J. Kelly: Using the carrot rather than the stick

Posted: September 26, 2009 8:03 p.m.
Updated: September 27, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Using the carrot rather than the stick

Increasing water use efficiency is anything but a pipe dream - and Santa Clarita Valley residents have already proven it.

Hopefully, you're pretty familiar by now with the water crisis facing all of California. The water community, including Castaic Lake Water Agency, has been striving to raise public awareness of the need for a new ongoing public ethic of smart water use, not just in times of drought but all the time.

The current three-year drought has, of course, pressed the need for wise water use, but so too have factors that will continue to be of concern even if it starts raining tomorrow.

Among them are the aging, earthquake-sensitive infrastructure in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that carries much of California's water, as well as the ongoing debate over how to best manage water supplies in light of concerns about the Delta ecosystem, including the Delta smelt, salmon and other fish species.

The "Perfect Storm" metaphor has become something of a cliché, but California's water supply situation fits it - a variety of factors have conspired to create not just a difficult challenge, but a crisis.

Here in the Santa Clarita Valley, we are proud to say we have managed and planned our local water supply quite well in light of the crisis. And now, we are also proud to say our calls for SCV residents to use water wisely are being heeded.

The statistics bear this out.

For example, over the first seven months of this year, SCV water use was down approximately 10 percent versus the same period two years earlier, in 2007. It's the second year in a row in which we've seen local water use reduced.

We think that's no coincidence: It was two years ago this month that we first told SCV residents of a controversial U.S. District Court decision that forced California water suppliers to reduce pumping of water from the Delta in order to protect the Delta smelt, a small fish found only in the Delta.

At that time, water agencies throughout the state started scrambling to shore up their supplies and urge water use reductions - or even mandate them.

In California, at least 49 water agencies have had to resort to mandatory reductions in water use.

We've been especially fortunate here on two fronts: First, we were already one step ahead of the game. We have been able to stave off mandatory reductions in water use because we at Castaic Lake Water emphasize ongoing water supply planning and management practices that anticipate future years in which availability is lower than "normal," and we plan for them.

These efforts include water banking programs that save surplus water for a not-so-rainy day, as well as acquisition of new and reliable sources of water to augment our local groundwater and Castaic Lake Water's annual allocation of water from the State Water Project.

And, second, we are fortunate because the wise water-use message is getting through to SCV residents, and the community is acting on it.

For the past two years we and the retail water purveyors have engaged in a stepped-up series of public outreach efforts designed to increase awareness of the overall California water supply crisis and to encourage residents and businesses to smartly manage their own water use.

These outreach efforts were stepped up over the last year by the SCV Drought Committee, which consists of representatives from CLWA, the four retail water purveyors, the city of Santa Clarita and Los Angeles County.

They have focused on everything from simple tips like "Turn off the water while you're brushing your teeth" to advocacy of drought-tolerant landscape management and acquisition of water-saving appliances.

(While we're on the subject, for a broad array of smart water use tips, please visit our Web site, or the Family of SCV Water Suppliers at

Those efforts are working.

Consider this: In January of this year SCV residents cumulatively used 16.4 percent less water than they did in January 2007.

The year-to-date total has fluctuated over the course of the year, and through July the cumulative reduction in water use valleywide for 2009 vs. 2007 was 10.3 percent. The overriding trend we're seeing is the SCV is using less water.

That's not because there are fewer people here, either. In fact, the number of water connections in the SCV is up slightly versus 2007 (about 1.1 percent).

These reductions in water use bode well for the Santa Clarita Valley.

First, of course, the reductions help us better manage the current water crisis and help us avoid tapping into our reserves.

But secondly, the reductions better enable us to continue to plan for the valley's future water supply and keep those reserves banked for future difficult years, so we can continue to avoid water rationing.

What can we say to the SCV? Thank you, and please keep it up. Our outreach efforts are continuing, and soon we plan to unveil a new series of incentives to help large landscape owners, residents and businesses to use water even more wisely.

What all of this means, in short, is that it can be done: Real, significant reductions in water use can be accomplished by promoting an ongoing ethic of smart water use, without resorting to severe measures like rationing.

This is important because the California water supply crisis isn't just going away.

Even with measures that need to be taken to better manage the Delta's water supply and its ecosystem, Californians need to consistently view water as a precious resource to be managed with care.

In that vein, last year Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger set a rather challenging goal for California, to reduce per capita water use by 20 percent by 2020.

Here in the SCV, we're already off to a great start. Keep up the good work!

R. J. Kelly is president of the Castaic Lake Water Agency Board of Directors. His column reflects the agency's views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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