LOS ANGELES (CBS13) — It’s one of the most common things we hear about the drought—people complaining about sending all of the water from Northern California to Southern California so they can have green lawns.

Los Angeles’ water supply has been the source of controversy ever since William Mulholland turned on the water from the Owens Valley via the L.A. Aqueduct back in 1913 and famously exclaimed, “There it is! Take it!.”

California’s drought, now in its fourth year, has only heightened tensions that naturally exist between a northern water supply and a southern demand.

MORE: California Drought Special

“They take all our water, that’s from what I hear,” Alex Ponce said.

“Southern California needs to be aware of what we’re sacrificing in order for them to have things like green lawns,” said Charnel James.

Most Northern Californians probably picture a land of lush lawns with green and expansive estates perched atop the hills to the south.

CBS13 took a spin through the Southern California suburb La Canada Flintridge. It’s one of the richest in the country where people use three times more water than the state average.

It’s home to outspoken Rich Buson.

“I think it’s a wasted effort,” he says of drought conservation efforts.

He argues farmers use the bulk of the water anyway.

“Besides that, you’re letting all that water go out in the Delta for all the stupid fish,” he said.

But if you think the aqueduct is sending water from Northern California to Southern California, you may be in for a surprise. The system carries water that’s eventually piped over the mountains, but at one spot near Tracy, retired biologist and pilot Rich DeHaven spotted something that flies in the face of conventional wisdom.

“It’s not flowing right now, because there’s no water to deliver to the south,” he said. “It’s becoming a stagnant pond.”

We spoke with Jeff Kightlinger in Los Angeles who runs the massive Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

“It’s easier to say it’s north-south rather than really think about it,” he said. “I think those perceptions are a generation old, frankly.”

The district’s 26 member agencies provide water to 19 million people, or 1 in 2 Californians. Kightlinger says in a normal year, about 45 percent of its water supply is local, while 55 percent of that water is imported from two sources—25 percent from the Colorado River and 30 percent from Northern California.

But last year, Southern California’s supply from the north was cut more than 90 percent, while this year it’s slashed 80 percent.

“We’ve been really hurting on Northern California supplies but so’s everyone else, there simply isn’t the water,” he said.

Southern California is surviving in part, he says, because of one very big drought buffer. Diamond Valley Lake was built a decade ago. the largest off-stream reservoir in the state is running at less than half capacity.

“Frankly it’s been our insurance policy. It’s saved us. We would’ve been at serious rationing two, three years ago,” he said.

Tim Barr with West Municipal Water District—one that buys water from Metropolitan—scoffs at the idea of a north-south clash.

“I kinda laugh,” he said. “I grew up in Northern California.”

He says the district is serious about weaning itself off of important water, which now accounts for 79 percent of its supply. It provides homeowners with individualized water budgets and is investing in recycling and stormwater capture and storage, rather than rely entirely on an increasingly unstable and expensive supply from its neighbors to the north.

“I think it’s easier to blame your sibling for a problem, than it is to just look at yourself and say, we all need to do this together as a family,” he said.

In La Canada Flintridge, there are a few brown lawns in the upscale community. Water use in May dropped 27 percent, and the South Coast Region, one area where conservation has lagged, actually hit Gov. Jerry Brown’s goal, saving 25 percent .

So the next time you hear Los Angeles is sucking Northern California dry, you’ll know perception is not reality. Like anything else with California water, it’s much more complicated than north vs. south.