About 50 miles to the northwest, the semi-agricultural community of Camarillo receives about 60 percent of its water from the State Water Project — a maze of dams, pipes and canals that carries snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada and transports it to points south — that it blends with salty groundwater sources.
The city wants to cut down its imported supplies to 25 percent before 2020 and has invested in a $50 million regional treatment plant that would pump and treat brackish groundwater into drinking water.
“We want local reliability and the ability to control our own destiny,” said Lucia McGovern, deputy director of the city’s Public Works Department.
The Southern California port city of Long Beach, which relies on outside water for 40 percent of its drinking water, studied the possibility of building a desalination plant, which separates salt from ocean water. But it was too expensive, and the city is now focused on increasing groundwater supplies.
A recent amendment to a court order deciding groundwater rights would allow Long Beach to pump more water. It’s in the very early stages of drawing up a multimillion-dollar plan to build miles of pipelines to move the water.
While maximizing groundwater is key to cutting down on distant imports, which can be fickle depending on the weather, it’s not an option for every community.
Groundwater is “not available everywhere, and it also depends on the quality,” said Jennifer Persike, a spokeswoman for the Association of California Water Agencies. “You have to be careful not to overpump it.”
While Santa Monica bets on groundwater, it’s also investing in other water conservation tactics, including recycling and rain harvesting. Near the touristy Santa Monica Pier, a water recycling plant treats excess irrigation and other urban runoff that is then used to water parks, school grounds and a cemetery.