Water Conservation Cuts – No News is Good News

By: Ed Osann

NRDC Senior Policy Analyst, Santa Monica

May 12, 2010

The event that doesn’t happen or the policy that doesn’t change seldom makes news.  A plane crash is news, of course, but ten thousand planes landing safely is no story.  So yesterday’s action by the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California won’t make the 10 o’clock news.  But a significant vote took place nonetheless.  The MWD Board reversed a staff recommendation and that of its own Budget & Finance Committee and directed that funding for water conservation programs NOT be cut in the 2010-11 budget.  At least five board members, led by Gloria Gray from West Basin, spoke up objecting to cuts in the water conservation budget, and Fern Steiner from San Diego made the motion to put it back, which carried with 80% of the weighted vote. 

The vote came against a backdrop of nearly a year’s worth of sniping at MWD’s regional conservation program.  Some local water suppliers think they can implement efficiency programs, well, more efficiently, than MWD, and don’t like paying what they view as a tax to support the regional effort.  Other directors have groused about spending money to reduce water sales when water sales have already dropped due to the recession.  And all Board members were looking to find ways to trim the budget to moderate the hefty rate increases planned for the next two years.  So the staff proposed to cut the already small budget ($19.1 million) for water conservation by $2 million, or over 10%.  Because MWD’s conservation investments are often matched by local utilities on a 3 or 4 to 1 ratio, that $2 million cut could well have translated into $8 to $10 million dollars in reduced conservation program activity.  With the ink barely dry on California’s new state law committing urban water suppliers to reduce per capita water consumption 20% by 2020, a vote to cut investments in water efficiency would have sent a horribly garbled message to consumers and lawmakers alike.  

Fortunately, that’s not going to happen.

A letter to the Board earlier this week from the business group Environmental Entrepreneurs pointed out that —

“The future economy of Southern California requires a secure and reasonably priced supply of water.  As water efficiency is a strategy both for environmental stewardship and for lowering costs, it is a critical investment in that future.”

A clear majority of the MWD Board now seems to agree with this view.  Investments in water efficiency must be maintained – and we hope, expanded.  As I’ve mentioned previously, the cost of water in Southern California is trending sharply higher for many reasons.  Water use efficiency has an increasingly important role to play – one that wouldn’t be advanced by short-sighted cuts in regional water efficiency investments. 

So another plane landed safely.  And no news was made yesterday at MWD.

Read More from ED Osann on the topic of Water Conservation and MWD Here.

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