Long Beach Post September 23, 2008

Water Conservation is Working, But Will it Be Enough?

By Ryan ZumMallen, Managing Editor

It’s strange to think about; with oil prices on everyone’s mind and energy costs through the roof, the idea that water may be the biggest issue of all is tough to swallow. A future with government mandated restrictions on water use seems, well, borderline apocalyptic. In truth, water levels are the lowest they’ve been in over 30 years and a crippling drought has done nothing to help, stirring up fears about California’s shrinking water supply and what can be done to fix it.

Leading the charge is the Long Beach Water Department (LBWD), which began its water conservation campaign just over a year ago and has transformed the way that people think about their water. The effort-part marketing campaign, part public service announcement and part watchdog-has been extremely effective in limiting the city’s water usage, and proved that a campaign about water conservation can capture the public’s attention, and produce instant results.

“We wanted to be the best prepared community is SC for a water shortage-which is going to happen,” says Ryan Alsop, LBWD manager of governmental and public affairs. Since the campaign began, he has spoken to more than 60 cities about implementing similar ideas. “We’ve been aggressively pushing other Southern California cities to do the things that we’ve been doing for a year now.”

Surrounding Southern California cities were slow to join the parade, but have seen the success that the LBWD has had with their campaign and are taking notes. Now, often with help from Long Beach, agencies like the Central Basin Water Municipal District are beginning to implement conservation efforts of their own.

“A campaign is the perfect way to get these ideas to the residents that have made a commitment to conserve,” says Valarie Howard, public communications manager for the Central Basin. Howard helped model the Central Basin campaign-called Shut Your Tap!, click here for more information-in part based on the Long Beach Water Department’s success.

“They really have set this great example,” she says. “They’re one of the first campaigns to not only put money toward a campaign but to do it well. It was very exciting to see it grow into what it is.”

What Howard and others have witnessed is the greatest example of citywide water conservation in the state. Since implementing the campaign in August of 2007, Long Beach has set record low usage numbers in eight of the last twelve months, drastically reducing water consumption and threatening wasters with public exposure.

But while Long Beach has found success and other local agencies are following the lead, Alsop says it probably isn’t enough. Reserves from the Colorado River and California Aqueduct are quickly diminishing, and a recent report from the United States Climate Prediction Center says that the current drought will continue at least through November-2008 will be the fourth-driest year recorded since 1894.

“Over the past year we have rapidly depleted some of our states most important water reserves,” says Alsop. “Those reserves collectively are now at the lowest levels since 1977. Our reserves are very, very low-below 30%. We’re still in a drought and have had permanent reductions in water that we receive from outside sources and depend on every year.”

Long Beach receives about half of its water from local, natural groundwater sources, and the other half is imported from those depleting reserves. Comparably, that’s a pretty good ratio-Howard says that some of the 28 cities in her Central Basin region rely on imported water for as much as 90% of their total consumption.

With heavy, replenishing rainfall unlikely in the next year, usable water that is available to Long Beach and other Southern California regions will continue to diminish. Howard says that in her region, water consumption has remained the same even with rapid population expansion-but it’s still too much.

“The only way is if everybody in Southern California immediately implements restrictions on outdoor uses of water, and bolstering that with community education campaigns,” Alsop says. “And that is not happening.”

If our use of everything from sprinklers to showers continues, government-issued mandates will certainly become reality in the near future. In December, the state will release an announcement concerning the level of available drinking water, which Alsop expects to be very low. As California’s population grows, water usage must not.

“If we don’t change our water usage now, we will very likely run out of water as the population expands,” Howard says. “If we have another dry year next year, there’s a possibility we won’t have enough to meet demand.”

Disclosure: The Long Beach Water Department is an advertiser of the LBPOST.com.