The entire Los Angeles region relies on three predominant sources for its water needs: the Owens River and other freshwater sources in the Central Valley, the Colorado River, and the Sacramento San Joaquin Valley Delta. It is a seemingly diverse profile of options, so why is there such a push to reduce and conserve? Plus, don’t reports show that overall water use has remained stagnant over the past decade, despite population growth?
Yes, but with one very large problem: our current water systems are not ultimately sustainable. Transporting hundreds of gallons of water from these sources creates a substantial financial and environmental strain – requiring fuel-guzzling trucks, using enormous amounts of electricity and disrupting the natural ecosystems of the rivers. In some areas, continual siphoning of water has caused a visible reduction in animal and plant species, and even physical changes to the land adjacent to the river. Additionally, California’s sustained drought is causing water to deplete at an even faster rate, which means we won’t be able to rely on the aqueducts in the long term.
While it is true that ups and downs in the annual rainfall pattern are natural and common, it is impossible to ignore the gravity of the more recent drought events. From 2011-2014, California experienced its lowest recorded rainfall in over 1200 years. The collective impact of the reduced rain and increased heat was a big one, taking the Sierra Nevada snowpacks to less than 75 percent of their average volume.
And California isn’t out of the woods, despite having had an average rainfall event this year. Most of the precipitation fell as rain instead of snow, meaning the snowpacks that supply water to the Los Angeles River and underground aquifers are still below normal levels. Levels in reservoirs in northern and southern areas of the state were bolstered by this year’s rain, but have not returned to non-drought conditions.
An additional concern stems from the condition of the infrastructure that delivers the water itself. The Los Angeles and Colorado Aqueducts are centenary and rely on a system of levees to transport water from the Central and Northern areas of the state. These levees are fragile, and could easily be compromised during an earthquake. Another reason water levels run low is the way in which aging pipelines allow a large amount of evaporation and leaking during transportation.
Forty-five percent of Los Angeles County land is covered in a paved surface such as asphalt or concrete. This compounds the effect of reduced water availability by significantly decreasing the amount of rainwater that can infiltrate naturally into the ground, or be captured for reuse. Essentially, Los Angeles’s streets act as a giant cookie sheet, sending gallons of water straight into the ocean as runoff, and collecting physical and chemical pollutants along the way. Changing the materials used to pave and landscape, and developing infrastructure to capture rainwater could add hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to the region’s water supply.
All of this means that now is the time to think about where our water comes from, how much we use, and alternatives to our current sources.
“Water touches all aspects of our lives, from necessities to recreation and quality of life,” said Supervisor Kuehl. “We want to ensure that Los Angeles County residents for generations to come have safe, clean and reliable water. We face a new climate reality and need to be thoughtful stewards of our future water supply.”
Back in May, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion asking the Department of Public Works to develop a comprehensive water resilience and expenditure plan for the County. The plan will help advance stormwater capture and water quality improvement projects broadly, with an emphasis on multi-benefit projects that support public and environmental health. Safe Clean Water LA is demonstrating the potential of multi-benefit stormwater capture projects for augmenting local water supply and improving the health and quality of our watershed and communities.