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Groundwater Supply for Santa Monica Helps Yield 'Encouraging' News  

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

March 9, 2017 -- After years of worry over its drought-strained groundwater supply, the City of Santa Monica is headed into the new year with some good news.

A combination of conservation, winter rains and an unexpected bounty of groundwater has helped the City cut its reliance on imported water by about 10 percent, City Water Manager Gil Borboa said Wednesday.

“It puts us closer to our goal of being water independent by 2020,” he said. “It’s encouraging.”

The shift doesn’t mean the City will halt the mandatory 20 percent cut in water usage it imposed on customers (including itself) in 2015, as California and its water agencies struggled through the fourth year of drought.

There are no guarantees of a repeat, or better, performance from groundwater in the near future, he said, so the City will stick with its program of cuts in water use, fines and measures to help customers conserve.

Santa Monica has been relying on wells to supply about 75 percent of the water used by its estimated 17,847 customers. The remainder is bought and imported from Metropolitan Water District, which gets its supply from the Colorado River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

But the City discovered last month that the wells “supplied in excess of 80 percent,” Borboa said in a February 22 report to the City Council.

The year to date average is about 75 percent use of well water, the report said.

Like the rest of the West, Santa Monica has felt the impact of the worst drought in decades. The City averages about 11.3 inches of rain per year. In 2011, the total was 0.96 inches and in 2012 was worse still at just 0.82 inches of precipitation. It closed 2015 with about four inches.

The total for 2016 and the first part of 2017 wasn’t available.

A series of winter storms lifted Northern California out of the drought as it was entering the fifth year. Not so Southern California, which doesn’t rely on rivers, lakes and reservoirs to supply most of its water.SoCal relies on groundwater aquifers, which are slower to recharge than surface supplies.

“It takes several years to percolate,” Borboa said.

Governor Jerry Brown ordered the state’s first ever mandatory cuts in water in 2015. State-mandated cuts ended June 1. The City’s customers have actually cut more than the original target of 20 percent several times.

The City’s groundwater currently comes from the 50-square-mile Santa Monica Basin. The volume of water ranges from 141,400 acre feet to 338,300 acre feet. In 2015, volume was about 317,400 acre feet of water, according to the City.

Officials say the amount in storage could total about 24 years worth of water, but that the City’s wells can’t capture it all because the water flows beyond the reach of wells or is too deep for them to access.

Santa Monica’s goal of no longer relying on MWD water is part of the its effort to be more environmentally conscious and self-reliant in many ways.

It is also more cost effective. MWD water costs about 25 cents a gallon. Well water costs less than 11 cents a gallon, they say.

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