With California reservoirs full after a historically wet winter, the Long Beach Utilities Commission has signed off on a plan to buy more imported water at a discount to help other cities clear space to capture more rain during the upcoming winter season.

Long Beach typically pumps over 60% of its customers’ water from local ground aquifers and is able to avoid paying for more expensive water piped in through the State Water Project or the Colorado River.

However, under the new deal approved at the commission’s Thursday meeting, Long Beach will buy imported water this year from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to help the district make space in its reservoirs for what’s expected to be a wet winter due to the oncoming El Nino storm season.

The deal allows Long Beach to purchase an additional 20,000 acre-feet of water per year for the next decade if wet conditions persist. An acre-foot is enough water to serve about two average households per year.

Dean Wang, the department’s manager of water resources, said the deal could allow local ground aquifers more time to recharge while also providing valuable space to the Metropolitan Water District to store additional water in the coming months.

“It’s really a statewide need for local agencies to help step up and participate to offer a solution to capture this water when it’s available,” Wang told the Board of Utility Commissioners Thursday.

Wang said that while the deal is good for 10 years, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the department will buy imported water each year. It will maintain its groundwater rights and could resume pumping if the state enters another dry spell.

Under the program, the department would work with the Metropolitan Water District, one of its two sources of imported water, and the Water Replenishment District of Southern California, which manages the groundwater that Long Beach pumps from, to bring in additional water from area reservoirs.

The Metropolitan Water District would credit the department $354 for every acre-foot and the Water Replenishment District would reimburse Long Beach another $214 per acre-foot for not pumping its share of groundwater.

The credits would lower the cost of using the more expensive imported water, which regularly would cost the department $1,209 per acre-foot, to $641 per acre-foot, which is roughly equal to what it costs the city to pump groundwater and treat it before sending it out to customers, according to Wang.

As of August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was predicting a 96% chance of El Nino conditions making their way into the northern hemisphere and a 66% chance that a “strong El Nino” would develop. This could mean more rain for California, which ended its water year last month with 33.56 inches of rain and state reservoirs at 128% of their historical averages.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.