By Staff Reports
(Apple Valley)– As the drought continues throughout the state, the Mojave Water Agency will continue to encourage its residents to keep conserving water because it’s working. Following Governor Brown’s drought declaration, many communities instituted mandatory water conservation measures across the state. The Mojave Water Agency’s (MWA) aggressive water conservation program, along with key storage projects; however, place the region in an enviable position of sustainability even if restrictions in state water deliveries continue for several years.
How does this water agency located in the Mojave Desert, some 80 miles northeast of the Los Angeles Basin, with an average, annual rainfall of five inches maintain a local water supply in spite of ongoing drought conditions?
Kirby Brill, MWA General Manager, credits the region’s resiliency to conservation and community-based planning. “Living in the desert with its limited water resources drives conservation and planning to a higher level. We have no choice but to conserve aggressively and store up excess imported State Water Project supplies when they are available.”
Among the region’s major achievements is a conservation culture that’s been growing steadily over the last decade. Working with municipalities and water companies through the Alliance for Water Awareness and Conservation (AWAC), the residents now recognize that desert-friendly landscaping is not just cost-effective, but water-wise with great curb appeal.
Relying on the collaboration of the community-at-large, the Cash for Grass program has become one of the key components to the region’s water management portfolio. In 2008, the Cash for Grass program was launched with a goal of helping local communities achieve a 20 percent water use reduction among residential users. Funded with local money and grants from the Department of Water Resources, the program has surpassed its goals resulting in the removal of more than 6.1 million square feet of turf. Ten years ago, per capita water use was 250 gallons a day versus only 160 gallons per person today. Since 2000, the Cash for Grass program, combined with other water conservation efforts, has resulted in a 30 percent reduction in water consumption, already exceeding the 20 percent goal by the year 2020 that is required by state law.
Beyond conservation, understanding the desert’s unique geology is critical in developing long-term sustainable water management solutions. The desert’s primary source of water is the natural groundwater supply that is fed by water runoff from the local mountains. This underground reservoir provides supply and offers critical storage capacity that allows the region to reduce its reliance on imported water supplies during times of drought or when State Water Project allocations are restricted for other reasons. MWA regards the investment in recharge and storage projects as an effective water management principle.
One successful project is the Regional, Recharge and Recovery Project, known as R3. It strategically replenishes local aquifers along the Mojave River and banks surplus State Water Project water for eventual use in drier years. Recently completed, the project uses a series of groundwater wells, pipelines, and booster pump stations to deliver drinking water to local participating cities. Recharge and storage programs like R3 have resulted in the banking of an additional 130,000 acre-feet of imported State Water Project water beyond what is needed to keep the groundwater basin balanced. One acre-foot can supply two families of four people for an entire year.
While the current drought is in the forefront of state issues, it didn’t take the desert region by surprise. The region has been planning for it. Currently, MWA is in the process of updating its Integrated Regional Water Management Plan. The Cash for Grass program and the R3 project were both identified 10 years ago under the previous plan to protect the basin against anticipated droughts and to ensure a sustainably managed groundwater basin.
This winning combination of conservation and groundwater recharge and storage is clearly working in the Mojave Desert. In addition to these local efforts, MWA also encourages the State to continue efforts on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan so that the State Water Project can be a reliable part of the future water management portfolio. Thanks to a region that’s committed to water conservation and strategic investments in water recharge and storage projects, MWA and its community partners are working together to ensure water for today and tomorrow.