Burbank Water and Power Continues Preparedness, Conservation During California Drought

Photo By Ross A. Benson

In the midst of intense drought conditions throughout a majority of California counties, Burbank Water and Power remain committed to an engagement in extensive preparation, planning, and water conservation measures. 

Escalating drought conditions in California were addressed by Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday, July 8, when he signed an executive order urging all California residents to participate in a voluntary 15 percent reduction in their water use. While Los Angeles County wasn’t one of the 50 counties named by Newsom as a state of emergency area, BWP is still advising Burbank locals to follow water preservation standards. 

“We can’t continue current measures when the rest of the state is in a drought,” Richard Wilson, Burbank Water, and Power Assistant General Manager said. “As the governor has urged Californians to reduce water usage by 15 percent, our customers need to conserve.”

Burbank’s Sustainable Water Use Ordinance, enacted by the City Council in 2008, consists of six stages of sustainable water use guidelines. As the City is presently adhering to Stage I of the authorization, Burbank has a 3-day per week watering schedule. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, up to 15 minutes of watering is permitted at each irrigation station prior to 9 am or after 6 pm. 

File Photo. (Photo by Ross A Benson)

Water use in the City has seen a steady decline under this stage, dropping from 204 gallons per capita in 2007 to 136 gallons per capita in 2020. Although the City has been successful in conserving water while at Stage I of the ordinance, BWP may soon shift into Stage II to comply with California water cutbacks. Stage III would only be implemented if more severe drought conditions in Southern California were announced by Governor Newsom. 

Stage II maintains certain similarities of the current protocol, with the addition of a limited one-day per week watering schedule during the months of November through March, versus the current 3-days a week watering plan allowed year-round. BWP staff met this week and decided to move forward with presenting the City Council with a draft report which would outline the circumstances warranting entering Stage II or Stage III. Following approval from BWP General Manager Dawn Roth Lindell and the Burbank City Council, the earliest Stage II could go into effect would be in November of 2021.

BWP ground water storage has increased in recent years to prepare for possible drought conditions, as well as any hindrance that could slow their ability to distribute imported water. The company currently holds 10,000 acre-feet of emergency water storage, which would supply the City for approximately 2 ½ to 3 years in the event of water shortages. When excess water is available from their sources, BWP also purchases from this abundance to remain proactive to the City’s needs.

“Our water levels have been pretty consistent,” Wilson said of recent water conditions. “We’ve put more water in the ground in past years for this scenario.”

Recycling is a critical component of BWP water preservation. Along with an agreement to supply recycled water to Los Angeles in return for further groundwater credits, Burbank also requires certain large irrigation areas and industrial projects to use recycled water. Furthermore, the Recycled Water Conversion Assistance Program offers rebates to Burbank customers who convert to using recycled water. 

Burbank receives its imported water through the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, whose main sources are the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers of the State Water Project, and the Colorado River via the Colorado River Aqueduct. Currently, only 5 percent of BWP’s imported water is distributed from the State Water Project, and the remainder of their water comes from the Colorado River Aqueduct.  

“We are not taking much water from the State Water Project, recognizing that the northern part of the state is really suffering,” MWD Board Member Marsha Ramos said. “We’ve shifted away from there because we can and we are using local management and the Colorado River Aqueduct to deliver water here.” 

The dry-year storage of MWD is projected to drop to 2.5 million acre-feet of water at the end of 2021. This comes after two years of record-high water storage in 2019 and 2020, with a high of 3.2 million acre-feet recorded last year. 

Although this figure marks a descent from recent years, 2.5 million acre-feet of water would supply about two years’ worth of deliveries for MWD’s 26 member agencies. With this in mind, Ramos believes the department is “positioned very well” to handle any dry years ahead. She doesn’t foresee Burbank feeling an impact in the form of water shortages but says MWD’s planning investments may increase water rates for customers regionally. 

“Rates will continue to climb incrementally,” Ramos said. “Investments in reliability, storage, maintenance, local projects and large regional projects will require the investment of money.” 

File Photo (Photo by Ross A Benson)

One of MWD’s most recent investments is a water recycling project in partnership with Los Angeles County and the Los Angeles Sanitation District. The proposal is one of the largest water recycling undertakings in the nation, and it recycles waste water by cleaning, then injecting water into the ground for future use. MWD is likewise working with local and federal legislators to secure grant funding to supplement ratepayer resources. 

Upholding secure water levels in Burbank will be largely dependent on adaptability, as drought forecasts historically can be difficult to predict with accuracy. A 2020 draft of the BWP Urban Water Management Plan is a further reflection of their preparedness, as it includes an outline of Burank’s water reliability, shortage plans, and recycling use through 25-year projections.

“The only constant in all this is change,” Ramos said. “And we can’t rely on what we used to rely on in the way that water used to flow, because this is the new normal and we need to plan, manage and adjust.”

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    1. Thank you for sharing.

      It is important to note that, on average, urban water usage is approximately 10% of total water usage in California and that water usage has declined over the past two decades:

      Source: https://www.ppic.org/publication/water-use-in-california/ (Public Policy Institute of California)

      I notice that my friends who are property owners tend to be pretty careful with water usage since they pay the bill. I have watched as new employees will let the faucet run quite a bit needlessly and we counsel them on this. Commercial users will need to do most of the heavy lifting. Residential water usage is pretty small as compared to all other uses combined.

      The report by Ellen Hanak, Vice President and Director of the Water Policy Center and Senior Fellow; and Jeffrey Mount, Senior Fellow is worth the read in my opinion.

      No disrespect is intended to anyone however the water conservation messages we receive as residents seems needless to me. End-users who pay the bill are pretty careful (in my experience.)

      California should be focused on how to recapture moisture from the air and other means (eventually desalination plants.) We capture 100% of the water that our HVAC systems put out and use it for irrigation.

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