Each of the four main sources of LA’s water carries with it more than its direct financial cost to customers. Despite the fact that Claremont does not directly use water from the Owens or Colorado rivers, we use water from the MWD which controls distribution of all of those sources, and so the more we use, the more is drawn from all the sources.
The groundwater we pump has to be replenished by water from the spreading grounds. As is frequently done to manage water for human consumption, a dam was built, which changes the state of the ecosystem in unpredictable ways. Furthermore, the more we pump out of the aquifer, the less water remains as surface water to refill other creeks and ponds.
Ground and surface water are important resources for more than just city consumption and irrigation. For example, in the Amargosa Desert of Nevada the Devil’s Hole Pupfish (C. diabolis) makes its home in the shallow pools that are in danger of being depleted by loss of ground water being siphoned away for irrigation. C. diabolis was designated an endangered species in 1967, and in 1976 was the source of debate in water rights litigation in the Supreme Court case Cappaert v. United States. Clearly the cost of water has a broader environmental cost for other species as well as for the human populations of those regions [xvi].
The diversion of the Owens River water has obvious social consequences, in that it ruined an entire region. The populations of the Owens River Valley today are subject to dust storms laden with pollutants that blow off of the now dry Lake Owens. These pollutants include a number of heavy metals and salts that are known to cause significant health problems for residents in the region [xvii].
The Colorado River would face extinction if everyone were allowed to pump as much as they wanted from it. It was the natural source for the Salton Sea, a delicate and important eco-system east of San Diego, which is now dependent on human maintenance. As a result of damming practices and water use on the Colorado, only a very small portion of the Colorado still reaches the ocean. Not only that, but unrestricted use of the river here places those downstream of us in jeopardy. The question of whether or not we have more right to the water because we are bigger or growing faster is one that has been the butt of much legislation.
While much of the environmental damage has already been done, efforts can be made to restore the previous states of various areas. It is hoped that by reintroducing water flow to the Owens River Valley that the grassland ecosystem that once existed there may eventually return. This may or may not work, but changing our attitude towards water and the environment is the only way that we can hope to reverse past damage and prevent future destruction.
The costs of water are not equally distributed socially or environmentally, but they are also not equally distributed economically. The State Water Project has been a large burden on taxpayers over the past 40 years, with those using the water not necessarily being the ones to pay for it. Furthermore, the energy cost of getting water here from Northern California is not insignificant. It is partially mitigated by the energy production from dams along the way. But, there is a net positive energy cost to get water to southern California of about 7.3 kWh/CCF. The true energy cost is actually larger as this number does not include the energy costs of purifying the water, distributing it locally, nor treating it (i.e. as sewage), as those processes occur in water regardless of its original source [xviii].
No matter where it came from, once the water gets to southern California it has to be purified and distributed. The energy cost of these two processes is approximately 1 kWh/CCF. Finally, any indoor use of water must be treated once it is used. This uses about 1.5 kWh/CCF [Error: Reference source not found]. None of these numbers is particularly large; however, when summed over all the water that the SWP provides, it turns out that the SWP uses approximately 3.6 x 109 kWh more than is produced by its dams every year. That’s enough to run Harvey Mudd College for 400 years.
All told, the cost of water in Southern California goes far beyond the price charged by GSWC. Since the State Water Project is funded primarily by taxpayers, only a minimal portion is paid by the consumers. GSWC charges $1.76 per CCF plus a service charge based on the meter size [xix]. This barely covers the pure electrical cost of pumping and treating the water, which means that the infrastructure is being paid for by taxpayers. Interestingly enough, although sewage is generally charged by water usage, HMC pays on a per student basis. Per Claremont Municipal 13.08.010 the charge is $0.34 per student per year [xx]. At this small expense the infrastructure and processing costs are clearly being paid by the state. For individual consumers determining the value of water conservation efforts, the environmental and social ramifications must be considered as well as the economic costs.
The first step in evaluating water usage on Harvey Mudd’s campus is to determine what information is important to find out. In order to do this, let us consider the reasons for wanting to know how we use water. By far the largest motivator for a project of this sort is eventual conservation, but recommendations for conservation efforts have to be conscious of the low economic cost of water if they are to be adopted. While there are many methods for measuring or reducing water consumption, many of them are more expensive than may be economically warranted by the cost of water. The social and environmental motivations will go only so far in convincing interested parties to invest money in water issues. Thus, the goal of this project was not only to determine where and how we use water, but also to identify the most economically efficient ways in which our knowledge can be improved or our water consumption reduced.