The following story is one in a series.
Water has always been a precious resource. Now, members of the scientific community, academics and conservationists are worried that due to pollution, climate change and other environmental factors, it may soon become a commodity in many parts of the world.
What some are calling a “global water crisis” in many places around the globe is the subject of a new documentary called “Last Call at the Oasis,” which stars environmental activist Erin Brockovich and a variety of water experts. The film examines the role water plays in virtually everyone’s daily life and highlights what Oscar-winning director Jessica Yu believes are the failures of the current water delivery systems.
In an interview with Indiewire, an independent news site, Yu expressed the urgency that she feels the water crisis demands.
“The problems that are out there are much more intense and immediate than I anticipated,” the director said.
Locally, Westside residents have seen how water shortages, water contamination and city planning with respect to residential and commercial developments can affect nature, transportation and urban sprawl.
Planned communities like Playa Vista are reusing wastewater for irrigation purposes, as does Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that oversees Los Angeles International Airport.
And legislators in recent years have taken steps to consider whether a development can supply enough water in accordance to the demands of the project.
Sheila Kuehl, a former assemblywoman and state senator representing Santa Monica, authored Senate Bill 610 in 2008.
The bill mandates a “city or county under certain circumstances that determines an environmental impact report is required in connection with a project, as defined, to request each public water system that supplies water for the project to access, among other things, whether its total projected water supplies will meet the projected water demand associated with the proposed project.”
Local neighborhood councils have begun opposing projects close to their constituents that do not factor water into a developer’s plans.
The Mar Vista Community Council asked Los Angeles officials to reevaluate a water assessment for the proposed Bundy Village development project, which came under intense scrutiny from other neighborhoods as well. The council’s transportation and infrastructure committee issued the request after reading the project’s draft environmental impact report.
“According to a water supply assessment performed for the proposed project, adequate water supplies would be available to meet the water demands of the proposed project,” the DEIR states.
“(The Department of Water and Power) anticipates that the projected water demands from the proposed project could be met during normal, single dry and multiple dry water years, in addition to the existing and planned future demands on (the agency). As such, no new or expanded water supplies would be necessary for the operation of the project and a less than significant impact would occur.”
The Los Angeles City Council, led by Councilman Bill Rosendahl, voted in August to overturn the approvals that the Planning Commission had granted the developer, Michael Lombardi, who had filed for bankruptcy.
“The former Bundy Village proposal, which large numbers of my constituents and I oppose, is dead and no longer a threat of being approved in its current form,” Rosendahl, who represents Mar Vista, said. “The developer decided to go back to the drawing board, and at some future time, bring forward a new proposal.”
Joseph Reichenberger, a professor of environmental science at Loyola Marymount University, says how water is recycled is as important as any use of the resource. “The days of not reusing water are gone,” the professor stated.
Reichenberger, who serves on the San Gabriel Water District, says it can be very costly for governments and consumers in both energy and money to import water to California from outside the state. “There is a tremendous amount of energy required to pump water from the Colorado River,” he said.
In academia, students and instructors have also begun to look at water in unique fashions.
The theme of water took center stage at Santa Monica College three years ago during its Global Citizenship Initiative, a two-and-a-half-year project designed to cultivate an understanding of international, intercultural and ecological matters among the college’s students.
“Water was the first theme that the council adopted,” recalled Bruce Smith, SMC’s communications director. “I think that it resonated with a lot of students campus wide.”
SMC students saw the classic film “Chinatown,” which dealt with political corruption over water management in the 1930s. In Professor Craig Hammond’s architectural history course, the role of water in architecture was discussed within the concept of city planning and covered historical structures specifically designed for the preservation and transportation of water for civilizations.
To the Ballona Wetlands, water means everything. Without increased tidal flow, the iconic 600-acre ecological reserve would be hard pressed to rejuvenate itself and in the process allow many of its native species to flourish, scientists say.
The state is planning a massive restoration project for the wetlands and central to its resurgence is water.
“One of the things that we’re interested in is reconnecting the wetlands to the watershed,” said Karina Johnston, a restoration biologist who is working with an organization that is assisting in the state-sponsored wetlands rehabilitation.
Johnston’s group, the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, is working with the state Coastal Conservancy, the lead agency for the restoration.
“Hydrology (the study of the movement, distribution and quality of water) is a key component in getting the right mixture of saltwater and freshwater into the wetlands for a variety of habitat,” Johnston added.
Smith, who is also a playwright, wrote a play last year entitled After Us: The Savage God about a farm family that is forced to endure a drought brought on by global warming that leads to the possibility of the loss of the farm. It was based on actual events that took place in Australia and the play had a stage reading in September at SMC.
“I think (the water-themed global initiative) served a wonderful purpose for framing the conversation about the importance of water,” Smith said.
“Last Call at the Oasis” will open in selected theaters in Los Angeles Friday, May 4.