Drought Response: It’s Time for a New Approach to Water Conservation in LA
LA Waterkeeper partnered with Save the Colorado this year to ask the newly appointed General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Marcie Edwards, to take action in response to the drought. Over 6,000 people signed our petition, which we hand-delivered to Ms. Edwards this week.
In January of this year, Governor Brown declared a State of Emergency – California is in its most severe drought in recorded history. Fourteen California communities are about to absolutely run out of water, wildfires are ablaze, and future projections of adequate precipitation are bleak. The petition was intended to address the fact that some water agencies in Southern California have been slow to respond to Governor Brown’s demand that we all reduce water consumption by 20%. The petition asked Ms. Edwards to lead her team to increase conservation, launch new stormwater capture and recycling programs, and to better educate Angelinos about the drought and the impact our actions in LA have on the rivers we depend on for water like the San Joaquin and Colorado rivers.
LA DWP has had some success in the past in terms of water conservation. Use has been pretty steady despite a growth in population. But we need more now. We need more pricing tiers for water rates so the more water you use, the more you pay for it. With assurances that everyone can afford what they need, truly valuing our scarce water resources is the right direction. The other priority should be incentivizing people to buy a separate meter for landscape consumption and disincentivizing lawns and super thirsty plants. And we need to invest in water recycling projects and messaging to change the public’s perception about drinking recycled water. Real change in these areas would demonstrate that Los Angeles is a leader in the water world.
And, Los Angeles should be at the forefront of making more water-conscious decisions. Over 80% of the City of LA’s water is imported from faraway ecosystems like the Bay-Delta and the endangered Colorado River and we, on average, consume 122-129 gallons per day in LA. Other countries, like Australia and Israel, have lowered their consumption to 40-60 gallons per day in response to drought.
One of the best things happening at DWP is the Water Conversation Response Unit – DWP staff that patrol communities looking for water wasting activities and respond to reports of water waste (email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-DIAL-DWP). However, DWP only employs 4-6 people to patrol and respond to nearly four million people. Also, although the Unit has communicated with hundreds of residents according to reports, no fines have been issued.
Los Angeles needs to take water conservation more seriously. We can no longer rely on our past efforts – it’s not enough. Each of us need to take individual actions like replacing lawn (now!) with drought tolerant plants (DWP pays $3 per sq ft removed), water efficient appliances (DWP has rebates), fix all those leaks and overwatering, and go dirty for the drought by not washing your car.
My biggest fear is that it will start raining and people will forget about the drought. But, it’s not going away. We need our elected and appointed officials to lead the way, emulate change, and demand a truly new approach to water conservation in Los Angeles.
-Liz Crosson, Executive Director