CITYWIDE — Flashback to the days leading up to this past Christmas: The region was being pounded by a rare, nearly week-long storm that brought down trees and caused hill dwellers to fear their homes would be swallowed up in a cascade of mud.

In Santa Monica, there were few reports of damage. In fact, the storm had an upside for locals.

Three of its wettest days brought something even less common than an around-the-clock downpour to Santa Monica: The period from Dec. 20 through Dec. 23 was the first stretch since the 1994 Northridge earthquake when the city’s water plant didn’t have to import any H2O to meet locals’ needs.

Sprinkler systems were (hopefully) shut off, car washes went on temporary leave, and residents, who probably weren’t going for long walks or jogs through the neighborhood, weren’t consuming as much water as usual either.

Besides decreased demand, there was another big reason behind the feat. After being closed since 1996 because of groundwater contamination caused by gasoline leakage, the Santa Monica Water Treatment Plant re-started its pumps in early December, greatly boosting the local water supply.

With the new wells online, Santa Monica can now produce about 72 percent of the water it needs on a typical day, according to Water Resources Manager Gil Borboa. The rest is purchased from the Metropolitan Water District, which gets its supplies from Northern California and the Colorado River.

While the three days of self sufficiency were admittedly something of a fluke, Borboa said the feat points toward the possibility of a future when Santa Monica produces 100 percent of the water its residents and businesses need on a daily basis from its own water table. It’s a goal City Hall is aiming to achieve by 2020, Borboa said.

“It shows us that we can indeed work toward complete 100 percent self sufficiency,” he said. “We are aiming toward that and we’re starting to develop a plan as to how we’re going to achieve that.”

The plan will likely include a mix of measures, from steps that are already underway like additional exploration of the local basin for potential new well sites, to increasing the use of recycled water to improving conservation.

Borboa said he expects the City Council to hold a study session on the topic in March, but added there are no specific proposals on the table to boost the share of Santa Monica’s water that is produced locally.

No one thinks getting to self sufficiency will be easy, but leaders seem to agree reducing water imports should be a high priority.

Mark Gold, who chairs City Hall’s Task Force on the Environment, said eliminating Santa Monica’s reliance on imported water would be a significant move toward true sustainability.

“Imported water from MWD costs more than local water supply and it comes with environmental impacts to the Bay-Delta and Colorado River basins, as well as a large carbon footprint because of the energy needed to pump the water here,” he said. “California’s water crisis will only worsen in the future and local water self sufficiency will give Santa Monica a reliable, drought-proof water source.”

To Councilman Terry O’Day, the re-opening of the water treatment facility presents “a historic, once-in-a-lifetime moment to think about [water] issues for the city.”

O’Day said the ability to provide 72 percent of needed water from local supplies — as opposed to about 20 percent while the plant was offline — puts self sufficiency within reach. The state government, he noted, has already urged localities to reduce water consumption by 20 percent in the next nine years.

“It wouldn’t take much more investment to take us across [the 100 percent] threshold,” he said. Getting there, he added, will bring Santa Monica cheaper water as well as environmental and water security benefits.

He said steps City Hall should take include increasing investment in water conservation programs and requiring new large-scale development projects to use recycled stormwater in their irrigation systems — something few landowners do.

City Hall plans to hold a ribbon-cutting for the re-opened water treatment plant, which is located at Wilshire Boulevard and Bundy Avenue in West Los Angeles, next month, O’Day said.

nickt@www.smdp.com

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