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Court approves groundwater-storage plan for cities in southeast LA County

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The Los Angeles Superior Court approved a new groundwater-storage plan for southeast cities of Los Angeles County on Wednesday, Dec. 18, according to a statement released by the City of Signal Hill.
The groundwater-storage plan stands to benefit more than 2 million residents and thousands of businesses that rely on groundwater supplies in the region, according to the city. The plan permits the storage of water during wet periods and for use during droughts, effectively “protecting the region’s economy,” city officials said.
“This plan comes at just the right time as our climate is getting more unstable,” said Signal Hill Mayor Michael Noll.
Signal Hill joined Cerritos, Downey, Lakewood and Long Beach to forge a consensus on the storage plan with other cities, public water agencies, private water companies and individual water-rights holders. The complex storage agreement was negotiated over a three-year period by the cities, including over 140 water-rights holders.
Regional water managers praised the ruling, which had limited opposition in court, according to Signal Hill city officials.
Officials with the Water Replenishment District of Southern California (WRD), which is in charge of replenishing water taken from underground aquifers, have also praised the agreement, adding that the court’s ruling would help insure the sustainability of the water supply for millions of residents in southeast Los Angeles County.
According to city officials, groundwater began to dry up in the late 1950’s with the explosive regional growth in southeast Los Angeles County. As new communities, like Lakewood, incorporated, the need to supply water soared.
By 1964 the groundwater table was close to collapse and major land subsidence was taking place, as the groundwater table dropped. The water-rights holders at that time, including many cities, agreed to limit their pumping in a 1965 court order, Signal Hill city officials said.
However, the 1965 agreement did not allow for the storage of ground water. The allocation plan was like having a bank account, where you could only put money in but not take it out, said Kevin Wattier, general manager of the Long Beach Water Department.
The water-storage plan permits cities to invest in storing water, knowing that they can take it out when needed. The Cities of Cerritos, Downey and Lakewood purchased water several years ago, placed it into the underground water table, but were prevented from taking this water out based on the 1965 agreement.
The new water storage agreement also adds flexibility allowing cities to purchase water when it is cheaper during wet years. The rising cost of water is a major issue, since growth throughout the southwestern U.S. and shifting climate patterns have been reducing available supplies, according to Signal Hill city officials.
The new plan divides more than 330,000 acre-feet of groundwater-storage capacity in the areas underlying southeast Los Angeles County. According to city officials, an acre-foot of groundwater can supply four homes with water for one year.
WRD will be allowed 110,000 acre-feet annually to recharge the water aquifer, with imported water, stormwater and other sources, according to Signal Hill city officials. Over 108,750 acre-feet will be used for storage by those with water rights.
The City of Signal Hill has 2,022 acre-feet of water rights. The agreement allows pumpers to store an additional 50 percent of their rights and carry-over unused water up to 60 percent in any year, according to city officials.
“This agreement will be extremely valuable when we have water wells being serviced or in case of emergencies,” said Signal Hill Public Works Director Steve Myrter.
Signal Hill and other communities must purchase more expensive water from the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) when their wells go down for extended periods of time, according to Signal Hill city officials, who added that, without the water storage plan, cities lost their water rights annually and could not carry over stranded water.
Myrter noted that the purchase price of MWD water is currently $997 per acre-foot, while groundwater costs the city only the costs of pumping and the fees imposed on the water by WRD, which is currently $268 per acre foot.
Signal Hill currently budgets $750,000 annually for water purchase.
The water storage plan was “contentious” with 14 years of “off and on again” negotiations and four years of litigation and legislative efforts, city officials said.
Signal Hill shared in the litigation costs, which cost the City a total of $105,000. Signal Hill funded the majority of the legislation with the sale of surplus water property located in Paramount, which netted over $185,000.
Though the parties began discussions as early as 1999, they were unable to agree to a plan that properly served all of the various interests. After the series of starts and stops, Long Beach and Signal Hill began discussions early in 2011 on a negotiation framework, bringing in Cerritos, Downey and Lakewood to reach consensus.
The consensus effort involved negotiations with the 26 cities in the southeast Los Angeles County, private water companies, county water districts, regional agencies, the California State Department of Water Resources, small water producers and others.
The new groundwater-storage agreement includes a representative governance structure comprised of pumpers and the WRD and places economic controls on the lease market. The agreement also recognizes new sources of groundwater supplies, including the capture and infiltration of stormwater. Included in the plan is a program for disadvantaged communities in need of water-system improvements, water-quality projects and rate stabilization.
Signal Hill Mayor Noll said in a statement, “This is a water storage agreement that will provide valuable benefits to our community and the entire region for a long time to come.”

Source: City of SH

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Court approves groundwater-storage plan for cities in southeast LA County