For decades, the relationship between water agencies and their customers has been largely transactional – the agency supplies the water, and the customers pay for their usage. But with this historic drought, the relationship has evolved into something much more. Not only are water agencies charged with providing safe and reliable water, they are also in the business of educating their customers and providing them with tools to make more informed decisions on how they use water. In turn, customers are taking on a new level of responsibility to make changes in their behavior to adapt to the new normal of hotter, drier conditions in California. And, the customers of Las Virgenes Municipal Water District (LVMWD), serving the westernmost portion of Los Angeles County, are paving the way.
“LVMWD has experienced a significant reduction in water usage with the drought emergency, and the credit goes to our customers for their responsiveness …”
One of the tools that LVMWD is providing to its customers is data made available through the installation of advanced or smart meters. The automated system, along with the infrastructure, provides near real-time water usage data to customers and the District. Each individual customer can review and manage their water use more effectively and with greater responsibility using a mobile-device friendly system called WaterSmart. Leaks can be detected quickly rather than waiting for an entire billing cycle to discover a spike in usage and cost, which helps to conserve water. Not having to manually read 21,000 meters every month also helps to keep fleet vehicles off the roads – reducing carbon emissions.
But advanced meters are not enough. The District has also implemented a comprehensive conservation program due to the historic drought and its disproportionate impacts on our region. The program is designed to provide customers with clear guidelines to follow, a billing structure to incentivize customers to stay within their prescribed water budgets and penalties for those who ignore the conservation requirements.
As of November 2021, the District adopted Stage 3 of its Water Shortage Contingency Plan, which included the declaration of a local emergency and initial reduction of customers’ outdoor water budgets by 25 percent. The action was necessary because LVMWD’s single source of drinking water supply from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) and delivered via the State Water Project was not expected to meet the normal demands of the region. In May 2022, after the driest three consecutive winter months in recorded history, outdoor water budgets were further reduced to 50 percent of normal.
Since March 2022, the District has issued exceedance notices to customers who have used 150 percent or more of their water budgets. In addition, customers who have had four exceedances have been informed of the possible installation of a flow restriction device to curb their water usage. The devices are installed on water meters for two weeks for the first exceedance. If water consumption is not substantially reduced and the exceedances continue, the restrictor is reinstalled a second time for three months. For third and subsequent exceedances, it can be installed for up to six months. The program is intended to ensure that all of LVMWD’s customers do their part to respond to the critical water shortage. Fortunately, it is working as only 70 flow restriction devices have been installed to-date.
LVMWD has experienced a significant reduction in water usage with the drought emergency, and the credit goes to our customers for their responsiveness, flexibility, resiliency and engagement. Water consumption was down 37 percent in June, 32 percent in July and 36 percent in August 2022, as compared to the same months in 2020. When adjusted to account for the higher temperatures this year, those reduction number correspond to 44 percent, 42 percent and 45 percent, respectively. With a regional reduction target of 35 percent, these conservation results have delayed the need for an altogether ban on outdoor watering. In May 2022, MWD warned that an outdoor watering ban could be instituted as early as September 1, 2022, if conservation objectives were not achieved. The need for such a ban has been pushed off to at least December 1, 2022 and will depend on continued conservation efforts and water supply conditions with the start of the new “rainy” season. For the month of August, 77 percent of LVMWD’s customers were at or below their reduced water budgets. Compared to similar months in 2013, LVMWD’s customers have collectively reduced their water use by approximately 50 percent.
LVMWD customers are at ground zero for drought in the United States. Many have already begun planning to transform their landscapes to be drought-tolerant and climate-appropriate for a future that will be hotter and drier. A drive through the service area highlights the overwhelming cooperation and commitment of customers. With all the challenges that our people and planet face, it’s refreshing to see a community work together for the good of the whole. Our community will be stronger and more resilient as a result. LVMWD thanks its customers for being drought heroes and commits to do its part to improve water supply reliability for the future.
“Water consumption was down 37 percent in June, 32 percent in July and 36 percent in August 2022, as compared to the same months in 2020.”
Related stories: Las Virgenes Municipal Water District General Manager David Pedersen won the Kathy Cole Award from SCWC in 2021.