Water In 50: OG attends MET Water District’s Meeting Offering a Look Into the Future for Southern California and other Desert Cities

Posted on 10. Jun, 2011 by in Business & Policy, Events, Politics

Over the next 50 years water resources will grow increasingly scarce and become more costly for Southern California consumers. This was the broad takeaway from the Metropolitan Water District’s (MET) Blue Ribbon Committee Report, discussed at the inaugural meeting of the UCLA Water Resources Group. At the meeting, water experts from the committee presented the report’s findings and addressed the technological, financial, and policy obstacles of water in the 21st century.

“Some of the best return on investment will be educating our youth, our future leaders, on the value of water and its efficient usage.” -Sherry Simpson Dean, Chair of Communications Subgroup for the Blue Ribbon Committee (and Executive Strategist for Opportunity Green)

Water comes from a variety of sources: groundwater, recycled wastewater, rainwater, and seawater. However, the greatest source of water in Southern California comes from importation, and that’s where the MET comes in, importing and selling water to municipalities from Los Angeles to San Diego. As much as 60% of Southern California’s water is imported and sold through the MET. However, according to the Blue Ribbon Committee’s Report, there are long term challenges to water resources and serious questions to MET’s long term sustainability. 

  • Drought will be normal. Populations will grow

In the next 50 years what we now know as drought will be the new normal. Experts believe that climate change will lead to a drier, hotter climate in Southern California and its population is expected to grow, placing greater demands on water resources. Importing more water from the Colorado River won’t be an option for the MET because populations in Nevada and Arizona are expected to double over the same time period.

  • Importing water needs to be more energy efficient

The MET is one of the largest consumers of energy in CA, second only to the U.S. military. This energy use threatens water importation to Southern California. Over the next 50 years, there will be significant investments to make water importation more energy efficient.

Technology will make water use more efficient

Technology will be increasingly used to regulate and manage water use. Smart meters will become commonplace in homes and businesses to track water use. Additionally, technologies will be incorporated to detect leaks and provide better monitoring, reduce evaporation, improve water storage, and provide renewable energy.

  • Cost of importing water is increasing

Water prices are up more than 50% over the past 4 years. The cost of importing water is on a path to becoming more costly than developing local resources. As the price of water goes up, local communities will have less desire to purchase expensive imported water from MET and more incentive to develop local water resources.

  • MET’s financial model is not sustainable

Perhaps the most startling revelation from the report is that the MET’s financial model is not sustainable in the long term. Most of MET’s costs to import water are fixed, whereas its revenues are variable. What this means is that as localities purchase less water from MET, either by developing local resources or from greater water conservation, MET is forced to raise its prices. Paradoxically, as consumers use less water, they may actually be contributing to their higher water bills. A financial model that punishes water conservation and discourages the development of local resources is simply not sustainable over the long-term. A new financial model for the MET will drastically alter how localities purchase water, and consequently, how consumers pay for water.

  • Imported water supplies are essential

Southern California communities could never rely on local resources alone. The MET sometimes acts as “water insurance” by selling localities water to meet short term demands. In Santa Monica, for instance, the MET was able to supply the city with water after its groundwater supplies were polluted by MTBE, a gasoline additive. With a new Water Treatment Plant now online, Santa Monica is back to utilizing its local resources, but the MET was able to meet the city’s water demand with little interruption to residents’ water services.


These are only a handful of the issues addressed in the Committee’s report, but it’s evident that as population increases and temperatures rise over the next 50 years, Southern California’s water delivery systems will need to be overhauled. Water systems will need to be more efficient, less wasteful, encourage local resource development, and align cost savings with conservation.

On the bright side, Southern California’s integrated regional planning, the collaboration between local communities and agencies, is among the most advanced in the world. No other region is better positioned to address its water challenges than Southern California, and taking a long term approach will assure preservation of water resources for the future.



UCLA Water Resources Group



MET Blue Ribbon Committee



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