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Water's energy -- and expense

Power costs and climate-change rules are threatening Southern California's long love affair with imported supplies, forcing the region to consider sources closer to home.

November 14, 2011|Bettina Boxall

The most powerful, the Edmonston plant at the base of the Tehachapis not far from Grapevine, has 14 enormous pumps with a combined horsepower of more than 1 million. In what is described as the single longest water lift in the world, Edmonston heaves supplies 1,926 feet uphill to a series of tunnels that cross the mountains.

Simple math and figures from recent energy studies conducted for the state by the consulting firms GEI and Navigant show that during the last decade, the long haul from the Bay Area has on average annually consumed enough power to supply more than 600,000 single-family homes.

The water resources department knew when it was planning the state project that it would be an energy hog. A 1964 report concluded that the most economical power source would be a state-owned nuclear plant. It was never built.

About 14% of the project's power comes from the Reid Gardner coal plant near Las Vegas, which the state has contracted with for 30 years.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, November 16, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Imported water's energy costs: An article in the Nov. 14 LATExtra section about the energy used to import water to Southern California identified a senior assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power as Jim McDaniels. His last name is McDaniel.

To cut its greenhouse gas emissions, the department is replacing the Reid electricity with power from a state-of-the-art natural gas plant in Lodi and with renewable energy. Veronica Hicks, chief of the project's power office, said the agency is also in partnership with the University of California to develop a solar farm on about 100 acres near Pearblossom.

The MWD imports 40% to 60% of the Southland's water supply. Rising energy costs are one of the reasons the district has increased its wholesale rates to Southern California water agencies 75% in the last six years and will continue to raise them, executives say.

The district also cites higher treatment costs, the expense of fighting an invasive mussel in the Colorado aqueduct, and payments for anticipated environmental and infrastructure projects in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

No one expects Southern California to stop importing water. But energy pressures, combined with environmental problems that are undermining the long-term reliability of imports, are reshaping policies.

The California Energy Commission is promoting water conservation and more efficient appliances to save electricity and cut the state's greenhouse gas emissions.

"If you save water, especially in certain parts of California where you're really dependent on imported water resources, that actually has a benefit to the energy sector as well," said Lorraine White, a senior specialist with the commission.

In Long Beach, the MWD's price hikes "are primarily driving us to expand our groundwater production," said Kevin Wattier, general manager of the city water department, which is continuing to emphasize conservation even though the statewide drought is over.

Officials in Los Angeles, which gets about half its supplies from the MWD, have calculated that it takes more than twice the power to ship water from Northern California than to recycle local wastewater with a sophisticated treatment process.

Jim McDaniels, senior assistant general manager of the L.A. Department of Water and Power, said the agency is scrutinizing the cost and associated carbon production of imported water versus local sources, including storm-water capture and cleaning up contaminated groundwater in the San Fernando Valley.

The city's strategic water plan calls for conservation and recycling to meet new demand, not more imports.

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