The County has relatively little precipitation which causes a heavy dependence on groundwater whenever surface water supplies are low. Most recycled water is secondary nondisinfected effluent that has limited uses. During the drought, thousands of groundwater wells failed, leaving residents dependent on those wells without water. Many community groundwater wells have high nitrate concentrations that exceed safe drinking water quality standards.
Learn more about groundwater quality here.
Some technologies are relatively simple to implement and may be cost-effective without need for subsidy or incentives; others may need incentives, subsidies, and/or low interest loans to mitigate the initial cost of installation and the incremental costs and risks of adoption.
Visit the technology section to learn more.
Most drought resilient technology opportunities involve actions and investments by both large water users and residential customers in water conservation and efficiency, on-site wastewater treatment, and/or on-site production and use of recycled water. These types of customer-side strategies alleviate pressure on centralized municipal water and wastewater treatment systems. Over time, less municipal water and wastewater treatment capacity will be needed, reducing capital and operating costs of centralized municipal water and wastewater systems. In many cases, customer-side water actions also reduce electric consumption and associated greenhouse gas emissions from centralized water and wastewater utility systems and operations.
California’s water utilities develop, fund, and implement their own customer-side water conservation, efficiency, and recycled water programs. This is both unreliable and economically inefficient: California has thousands of water agencies of many types – municipal agencies, special districts, investor-owned water corporations, mutual water companies, and community water systems. Most are very small and do not have funds or staff to develop and manage customer programs. In addition, since rates for water and wastewater services are much lower than for energy, it is difficult for individual water and wastewater utilities to raise sufficient funds to support customer-side water projects solely through water and wastewater surcharges.
Distributed Water Resources
The energy industry refers to customer-side energy resources – energy efficiency, electric demand response, customer production of clean and/or renewable distributed electric generation, and battery energy storage – as distributed energy resources.
Customer-side water projects – water conservation and efficiency, changes in quantity and timing of water demand, customer production of water resources (surface water, groundwater, on-site production and reuse of recycled water), and water storage – are similarly “distributed.”
The pivotal role of customers is particularly evident in electric utilities’ programs encouraging customers to develop distributed energy resources. However, while diversification from centralized utility services to customer owned and operated electric, water, and wastewater systems is conceptually simple, implementation can be difficult and costly.
Learn more about the benefits of distributed water systems here.
The level of current water sector investments in customer conservation, efficiency, and recycled water is unknown, but water conservation investments made by large wholesale urban water suppliers and their customers indicate that statewide water conservation investments may be about 10% of average annual investments made by electric utilities for comparable purposes.
Given that (i) the State cannot control hydrology, and (ii) one of the keys to drought resilience is “carryover storage” (and building new surface storage capacity is difficult, controversial, and will take many years to implement), most water stakeholders in Tulare County are presently focused on the one critical water supply that water utilities and their customers can most directly impact – groundwater.
The 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) has provided an important infrastructure for collaboration among water suppliers and water users in groundwater basins designated as “critically overdrafted” by the Department of Water Resources. Current dialogues focus on a need to reduce groundwater withdrawals while concurrently maximizing groundwater recharge. While both are essential, Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) do not yet require consideration of drought resilient technologies, although SGMA does require consideration of water efficiency.
A stranded asset is one that can no longer be productively utilized throughout the term of its expected useful life for the purpose(s) for which it was intended at the time of purchase or installation. Assets become stranded in many different ways, including changes to policies, rules, regulations, legislation, markets, technologies.
The process of shifting investments from centralized utility systems to thousands of customer-side resources ultimately requires stranding some utility assets. Just as energy utilities needed incentives to transition to a competitive energy market, water and wastewater utilities will need financial mitigation for stranded costs in centralized water and wastewater infrastructure when they encourage customers to make investments in customer-side systems that help build drought resilience.
Carryover storage is the amount of long-term water storage available to enable serving water demand over multiple years from stored water supplies.
As large users of groundwater, both for livestock and for crops (especially alfalfa and other fodder crops), dairies have an important role in reducing groundwater pumping and recharging groundwater basins. Special regulations also require dairies to take actions to protect surface and groundwater quality. Since dairies produce 55% of the State’s shortlived climate pollutants, dairies also have a major role in both greenhouse gas reduction and production of renewable energy and fuels using dairy methane. Dairies are thus major participants in the search for agricultural water efficiency, sustainable groundwater management, groundwater quality, greenhouse gas emissions reduction, and renewable energy and fuels, providing a natural and vibrant forum for convening stakeholders throughout California’s agricultural community around the search for technology solutions.
Tulare County's Dairy Technology Cluster
Tulare is the largest dairy producing county in the U.S.
Presently, the State invests in individual resources on a separate basis. Accelerating drought resilience
will require new business models that enable optimizing State investments on a holistic, comprehensive basis – cutting across water, energy, and climate boundaries.
Benefits to Investing in Distributed Water Resources
Most of the populated areas of Tulare County are classified as “disadvantaged” by the State’s CalEnviroScreen tool that computes numeric scores by census tract to determine eligibility for DAC assistance. Local government officials observed that many of the impacts DAC programs are designed to address, such as water quality and air pollution, do not observe census tract boundaries.
Learn more about DACs here.
Many studies that estimate water, energy, and greenhouse gas emissions by industry sector, business segment, region, technology solution, or end use rely upon primary research conducted more than 10 years ago that are no longer representative of current practices and technologies. More current data about water and energy use by industry, business, system, function, and sub-function would enable more expedient matching of candidate technology solutions to potential applications, and more credible cost-benefit evaluations.
Learn more about leveraging state programs to improve data under Recommendation 3.
A New Multi-Benefit Model is Needed for State Investments
“Water utilities only value the cost of treating and delivering water. Wastewater utilities only value the cost of collection, treatment, and disposal. Electric utilities only value saved electricity. Natural gas utilities only value saved natural gas. This single focus causes underinvestment in programs that would increase the energy efﬁciency of the water use cycle, agricultural and urban water use efﬁciency, and generation from renewable resources by water and wastewater utilities.”
Source: 2005 Integrated Energy Policy Report, Energy Commission, Publication Number: CEC-100-2005-007CMF, p.150.