For the first time in 68 years, the Laguna Beach County Water District will lessen its total reliance on imported water by tapping local groundwater in the Santa Ana River Basin, district officials said Wednesday.
By summer, the district expects to provide two-thirds of its water needs locally instead of depending solely on water from the Colorado River and State Water Project, said Renae Hinchey, general manager of the district that supplies water to 20,000 residents within an 8.5 square mile area of Laguna Beach. Still to be worked out is a delivery plan, with discussions underway with neighboring districts to tap into their pipelines.
“This is a windfall for the district and its customers,” said Kelly Boyd, board president, noting that “for years we have worked to cut our dependency on imported water.”
Hinchey said the historic agreement signed Tuesday, Feb. 2, with the Orange County Water District culminates 16 years of discussions and re-establishes Laguna’s right in perpetuity to annually pump up to 2,025 acre-feet of groundwater per year.
When discussions began, Laguna’s water use was higher, closer to 4,500 acre-feet per year, Assistant General Manager Chris Regan said. Due to conservation last year, the water district’s usage dipped to 3,300 acre-feet. One acre-foot of water equals 325,860 gallons, or enough water to cover an acre of land, about the size of a football field.
And while the district has secured a new supplier for a majority of its needs, the pact does not lessen requirements under a state mandate to cut use by 24 percent compared to 2013 levels. In December, Laguna users cut consumption by just 19.9 percent, according to figures released this week by the State Water Board. Neighboring South Coast Water District, which supplies South Laguna and nearby cities, achieved a 23.7 percent reduction in water use last month, says the state report.
Groundwater pumped from the Santa Ana Basin to Laguna will cost about $700 an acre foot compared to the $1,000 charged by the Metropolitan Water District, Regan said, which likely will ease pressure to raise rates. The new arrangement will also increase emergency supplies locally should pipelines from the district’s suppliers outside the region be disrupted, Regan said.
“For the past 16 years, I’ve been fighting to reestablish our local groundwater supply to ensure an additional source of water for the future,” said Hinchey, noting the truth in Mark Twain’s adage, “whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.”
The logjam broke when negotiations focused on making a business deal rather than battling over water rights, Regan said. “The political will was there.” Talks are now refocused on obtaining an agreement to transport water via another district’s pipeline to tie into Laguna’s system, he said.
The district traces its rights to Santa Ana Basin water from a 1920s land deal in Huntington Beach. The district’s founders used subterfuge to buy parcels, saying they were establishing a duck-hunting club. Instead, they drilled for water. By the late ‘40s, seawater intrusion ruined the groundwater wells and the district switched to a cheaper alternative supplied by the MWD, beginning its 100 percent dependence on imported water.View Our User Comment Policy