Energy to move water contributes to rising prices (March 28, 2015)

APPLE VALLEY — The price we pay for water is depending more and more on state policies, especially those mandating renewable energy to mine and move the precious liquid.

The state’s overall energy policy aims to reduce the production of greenhouse gases, starting with a reduction to the 1990 level by 2020 and then achieving an 80-percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2050.

Those energy policies of the state of California are heavily influenced by the move to more renewable sources of energy, and those new, renewable sources of energy are more expensive than existing traditional sources, Mojave Water Agency General Manager Kirby Brill said Wednesday.

The agency serves residents and businesses within 4,900 square miles in San Bernardino County, including the Victor Valley, Barstow, Yucca Valley, Lucerne Valley and surrounding areas.

Mojave Water Agency performs a dual role in administering the area’s water supply. Formed by voters in 1960, it is one of 29 authorized State Water Project contractors and it is the area’s court-appointed watermaster, ordered to seek sources of water that include supplemental water, and to deliver that water in the most effective fashion to ensure the quality of life within its boundaries.

About one-fifth of the electricity and one-third of the non-power plant natural gas consumed in the state are associated with water delivery, treatment and use, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board. And energy represents the largest controllable cost — totaling more than $500 million — of providing water or wastewater services to the public, the California Energy Commission says.

The SWP provides supplemental water to approximately 25 million Californians and about 750,000 acres of irrigated farmland. Its water is used to supplement natural water flows into the ground within a service area.

Costs tend to rise

All State Water Project contractors, such as MWA, pay the same rate for an acre-foot of water for the cost of constructing and operating facilities that store and convey the water supply. The rate can change annually.

In addition, each contractor pays a transportation charge that covers the cost of facilities required to deliver water to its service area — contractors more distant from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta pay higher transportation charges than those near the delta, according to the state Department of Water Resources.

In the Mojave River Basin this year, MWA must pay the state $264 an acre-foot.

The price for buying replacement or makeup water by vendors such as city water departments or private water companies is pegged at $477 an acre-foot. For water year 2013-14, the cost was $448 an acre-foot, and in 2015-16 it is estimated to rise to $506 an acre-foot.

Those costs are charged for year-by-year overuse on established limits for water companies and departments, and the difference is not a profit.

It is a pass-through that at this point is being used for debt service, which includes the Dudley Ridge Water District water purchase of 2009, MWA spokeswoman Yvonne Hester said.

The SWP contractors aren’t always allowed to draw their full annual allotment — the allotment so far this water year of Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 is 20 percent. MWA is allowed to access 85,800 acre-feet in a 100 percent allocation year, the latest occurring in 2006. An acre-foot is roughly the amount of water two households use in a year, according to MWA.

SWP allotments have been down recently because of the fourth year of drought in California.

Besides reducing water allotments, the present drought also is having an impact on the hydroelectric power produced and sold by the Department of Water Resources. With less water to run generating facilities, there is less power to sell by export and offset the costs of pumping and moving State Water Project water.

At SWP contractor Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, it’s business as usual, an official said.

Honestly, we have not really seen an impact on rates because of higher energy costs, spokesman Bob Muir said. We’ve seen retail rates rise about 5 to 8 percent. It usually happens this time of year.

Saving on water expenses

In the recent past, the City of Hesperia’s Water Department has been acquiring permanent water rights. The most recent purchase was for 500 acre-feet from Aqua Capital Management LP for $2.5 million, or $5,000 an acre-foot.

What Hesperia and others have done is buy out a position to prevent what they pay to us, Brill said in a meeting with the Daily Press.

The flip side to buying replacement water is reducing use and conserving existing supplies.

One acre-foot conserved translates 1-to-1 in acre-feet that we don’t have to import from the State Water Project, Brill said.

California Energy Commission officials say applying modern technology to manage water systems can save water and money that can be used for meeting new water quality requirements, replacing aging pipes or equipment, or even hiring new staff.

Source: Daily Press