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MWD-Reclamation Partnership:
Saving Water Saves Money

The water conservation partnership between the Lower Colorado Region and the Metropolitan Water District began in August, 1994, establishing a $3.65 million fund available from Reclamation for paying up to 40% of total project costs. The Met supplies up to 50%, with recipient agencies contributing 10% or more. The total budget amounts to $9.12 million over the four year span of the agreement, concluding in September, 1998.

The second annual report is now available. Some of the gains obtained and the lessons learned from the first report:

  • Ultra Low Flow (ULF) toilet retrofits represent the most effective large scale conservation measure available to date.
  • Soil moisture sensors for irrigation control on large landscapes prove quite cost effective when sites are well selected.
  • Southern California water agencies lose less water to system leaks (5-15%) than the system distribution losses typical in other parts of the U.S. (15-25%).
  • Customer compliance improves dramatically when water billing agencies offer incentives for participating in residential water use surveys.


Lower Colorado Region Water Conservation Center director Steve Jones chaired the project selection committee. Evaluations set stringent criteria for cost effectiveness, innovation and social benefit, with a particular emphasis on low income neighborhoods.

Jones visits sites at least twice a year, actively monitoring progress and advising course corrections from lessons learned. The Bureau retains oversight, review and accountability for the partnership, while the Met provides administrative support.


"If the Bureau of Reclamation had undertaken these 83 separate efforts directly, we would have needed at least six more people on our staff," Jones said. "We are getting a good bang for the buck by leveraging local money 40 cents on the dollar, for results that save water at less than half the cost of supplying it. Now that the concept is proven, local agencies have powerful incentive to take the initiative without further federal pump priming or supervision."

Programs funded through the partnership address the following categories of need: residential, large landscape, water distribution systems, and commercial-industrial-institutional combinations. Each program pursues opportunities for altering both behavior and hardware, the first with education, the second with state-of-the-art fixtures.


The projects evaluated thus far cost less than $6.2 million and saved more than 34,000 acre feet. For the sake of comparison, this quantity would meet the entire water need of the Southern California Coastal Plain for about three days. If purchased at the current average rate for treated water, it would cost over $15 million. The bottom line lesson: The most cost effective way to provide water is to conserve it.