Water, the energy force that sustains life, has been at the apex of the success of Los Angeles since the last century, when William Mulholland built the Los Angeles Aqueduct that brought water from the Owens Valley in 1913 and transformed the City of Angels from an arid backwater town into one of the world’s most important metropolises.
But after years of very little rainfall and a population that consumes millions of gallons of water, California officials are now imploring the state’s residents to begin adopting new conservation methods.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought last June 5th after rainfall measurements reached some of their lowest in decades, forcing lawmakers to implement drastic water conservation methods that have not been seen in nearly 20 years.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California issued a water supply alert five days after the governor’s declaration, and is urging all Southern California residents to practice conservation efforts in order to protect the state’s water shortage reserves.
“We’ve been asking cities to look at their water usage ordinances to see if they can be updated,” said Fernando Paludi, the water district’s manager of planning and water resources. “The water shortage really highlights this issue and is compelling cities and counties to lead by example.”
Los Angeles County has a water ordinance, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently called for moving Los Angeles from Phase I to implementation of Phase III of the city’s water conservation ordinance, which will restrict outdoor irrigation to Mondays and Thursdays only.
The Colorado River, which supplies one of Southern California’s primary sources of drinking water, is suffering from eight years of drought and its two major reservoirs are down to 50 percent of their capacity.
California’s water infrastructure is also just beginning to feel the impacts of changes in global warming, which has played a significant role in the reduction in the water supply, according to water district officials.
With that in mind, local and state entities are joining with elected governmental bodies in a full-court press to combat the drought and are encouraging residents and businesses to be more conscious of the amount of water that they consume.
Melinda Barrett, water conservation manager of the Los Angeles County WaterWorks District, says residential homeowners have taken to heart her organization’s call to save water.
“We’ve had a very good voluntary response to water conservation,” Barrett told The Argonaut. “We have seen a nine percent reduction since last summer.”
The districts provide water to several cities in Los Angeles County, including Marina del Rey.
County leaders have been taking steps to save water as well. The Board of Supervisors secured a $250,000 grant on April 14th that would provide more funding for a rebate program for installation of water-efficient toilets and washing machines and a new rebate program to replace high-water-use lawns.
“We as residents of Los Angeles County are huge consumers of water,” said David Sommers, Supervisor Don Knabe’s press deputy. “We are continuing to reduce our usage at the county level by using the latest technology to measure how much water is in the ground before we use sprinklers in the park,” Sommers said.
According to Villaraigosa’s office, commercial use is down four percent, single-family residential use is down 6.9 percent and the city government has reduced water usage consumption by 16 percent in 2008.
Playa Vista has engaged in conservation methods since it opened Phase I, the residential component of its planned development in 2002. Playa Vista uses reclaimed, or recycled water to irrigate its outdoor spaces, which represents a savings of about 66 million gallons annually, or enough water for 400 families of four per year.
“We are one of the largest examples of a community that uses reclaimed water,” said Steven Sugerman, a Playa Vista spokesman.
Westchester homeowner David Coffin feels that city officials are not looking at the most important factor that is influencing water consumption in Southern California.
“It’s the one thing that city leaders and their staffs don’t want to talk about,” Coffin said in a recent interview. “Growth and new housing developments are the main issues that should be discussed, but they aren’t.”
On the state level, Assembly Bill 1061, will remove water conservation obstacles by permitting homeowners in common interest developments, such as condominiums and townhomes to save water by installing water efficient landscaping. The bill passed the Assembly unanimously on Tuesday, April 21st.
Assemblyman Ted Lieu, who sponsored the legislation, said that AB 1061’s passage would pay dividends for many of the state’s homeowners.
“About 25 percent of the public live in common interest developments,” Lieu, whose represents Marina del Rey, explained. “California is heading into a record third year of drought, and we are facing the worst water crisis in modern history.
“It is ridiculous that many homeowners who want to do the right thing and reduce their home water consumption are impeded by antiquated, environmentally-unfriendly landscaping rules of their homeowner associations.”
In a move that will affect many Westside customers, the Metropolitan Water District decided to cut water deliveries to the Department of Water and Power by ten percent, and the district approved a rate change on April 17th that will permit DWP to penalize customers who exceed water conservation baselines with heavy fines.
“This mean that other retail water providers will have to take similar action,” said Barrett, whose organization purchases water from the Metropolitan Water District. “We’re completely dependent on our wholesalers.”
Coffin feels that until city leaders get a handle on housing and growth, water saving measures may not suffice to stave off a lasting water shortage.
“Water conservation has helped to some extent,” Coffin acknowledged. “But we’re hitting the wall, and soon conservation won’t be enough.”
Officials at the WaterWorks District warn that although the public is responding to water and energy saving measures, it must continue to be an ongoing endeavor.
“Conservation is always going to be necessary,” Barrett cautioned. “Water is a very precious resource.”