What to do about drought

Dear Editor,

We need local control of our water! 

That was my immediate thought as I learned 2013 was the driest year for California in more than a century, the driest on record and our third consecutive year of drought. 

The snowpack in the Sierras, the source of much our southern California water, is down 20 percent of normal. Governor Brown declared a statewide drought emergency and deliveries from the State Water Project have been cut to zero for this spring. That’s where we get half our water!

Fortunately, the large reservoirs in the southland have enough stored water to get us through the coming year. But if we have another year of drought, and those reservoirs are not replenished, we will be in serious trouble. With a warming climate, droughts will be more severe.  Claremont’s ability to manage water in our own best interest will be increasingly important.

Claremont’s best interest is certainly not Golden State Water Company’s highest priority. As we consider going to a municipal water system, Golden State is suing the city and has hired a Nevada firm to conduct a telephone survey with misleading questions about the water system. The survey includes questions about Claremont’s City Manager Tony Ramos and Councilmember Sam Pedroza. Later, will there also be questions about other councilmembers in the hope they can be intimidated?   

If we had local control of our water system, our best interests would come first. We would set our own rates based on the cost of supplying water, without paying for legal suits and for self-serving surveys, without profiting a private utility and without the regional rate system where we help pay for other cities’ water, even if they must import all of it.

We cannot survive without water. We shouldn’t be under a private monopoly.  Golden State is required by law to encourage water conservation, but as we cut back on water use our rates increase under the “Water Rate Adjustment Mechanism” approved by the Public Utilities Commission. If we owned the system we would not have that imposed on us.

Galling as it is, escalating rates is not the most critical issue. More important is our ability to prepare for coming shortages and conservation alone isn’t likely to be enough.

Every five years, water utilities are required to prepare an Urban Water Management Plan with projections for the next 25 years. Golden State published the last one for Claremont in 2011. Our need for imported water is estimated to increase from 51 percent in 2010 to 55 percent in 2035. But what will we do if that isn’t available? Conservation is emphasized, but to be prudent we need to do more.

Our neighboring cities provide good examples of what might be done if we owned our water utility. La Verne built reservoirs that will help when there is the need. Pomona has a large water reclamation plant that provides much of their irrigation water. Golden State offers no plans for additional water reclamation, but claims sole right to sell reclaimed water to their Claremont customers.  Fortunately, that does not apply to water reclaimed for personal use, so the Claremont Colleges have plans for an on-campus water recycling facility with a state-of-the-art small footprint water reclamation plant that will supply about two-thirds of the water needed to irrigate the campuses. That could cut the potable water Claremont must import by 70,000,000 gallons per year or more; about six percent of what we now import from the state water project.

If Claremont owned its water system we could follow the Colleges’ example, reclaim water throughout the city and substantially reduce dependence on increasingly scarce and costly imported water. 

It’s time for local control of our water system!

Freeman Allen
Claremont