The following opinion-editorial, authored by James McDaniel, Senior Assistant General Manager of the LADWP Water System, was printed in the Los Angeles Daily News on Sunday, April 10, 2011.
James B. McDaniel: Drought is over but water still precious
By James B. McDaniel April 10, 2011
After a rainy winter, it should hardly come as a surprise that our final snow surveys showed the year’s heavy snow and rain storms have effectively replenished our water supply.
Gov. Jerry Brown has already declared that our state’s three-year drought is officially over and Southern California’s biggest wholesale water supplier, the Metropolitan Water District, said its vast reservoirs are nearly full. So why should the people of Los Angeles still worry about our water supply?
Because the reality is we live in a semi-arid climate, prone to drought, with a limited native water supply that was used up years ago (the Los Angeles River) or has become largely contaminated (the San Fernando basin groundwater).
The reality is that climate change is creating new uncertainties for the traditional water supply.
The reality is that we have relied far too long on importing water supplies from hundreds of miles away – sources such as the Eastern Sierra and Owens Valley, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and the Colorado River.
The reality is that years of little snow and rainfall, pumping restrictions and other legal or environmental obligations have vastly reduced the amount of water that we can import from these traditional sources.
I have worked as a water engineer at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for the last 28 years – the last six as head of the water system – and I can tell you that this is not your parents’ – nor your grandparents’ – DWP. This city- owned water utility is a far cry from the one so famously depicted in the movie “Chinatown,” a fictionalized story about the water grab made by L.A. tycoons and politicians so they could get rich by developing the San Fernando Valley.
Whether or not you believe the movie has any veracity regarding L.A.’s water history, the truth is that the mountain spring water that flowed down from the
Eastern Sierra supplied the bulk of the city’s water for decades as the population quadrupled. But today, almost 40 percent of the water historically diverted to Los Angeles now stays where it belongs in the Eastern Sierra watershed – restoring the Lower Owens River, replenishing Mono Lake, calming dust storms at Owens Dry Lake, and improving vital habitat.
Over the past few years, the combination of these environmental commitments and years of below-normal snowfall in the Sierra have triggered a citywide call for water conservation. Los Angeles is not alone in this. Drought conditions and pumping restrictions due to environmental concerns have reduced water deliveries to much of the Southern California region and elsewhere in the state, while the population continues to grow. Even as normal rain and snowfall return this year, these regions can expect to see water shortages.
To be sure, Angelenos have responded to the call for water conservation four years ago. DWP recently reported that residents living in single-family homes used 24 percent less water in February than the same month in 2007, far exceeding the initial goal of 10 percent set in July 2007 when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa first urged Angelenos to conserve. Since mandatory watering restrictions took effect nearly two years ago, Angelenos have saved more than 70 billion gallons – more than one-third of what the city typically uses in one year. Los Angeles uses less total water today than it did 30 years ago despite growing to more than 4 million residents.
But there is more that can be done. At DWP, we must push forward with plans to expand uses of recycled water in safe and cost-effective ways. We will continue to work with federal agencies to make those responsible for contaminating the San Fernando groundwater pay for its cleanup. We will continue to work on ways to better capture and store rainwater so that we use this precious resource in a sustainable manner rather than watch it disappear into storm drains and flood channels that end up in the ocean.
As the DWP pursues these measures, we ask Angelenos to continue their diligence in saving. Continue to limit outdoor watering to morning and evening hours and only on the days allowed by your odd or even street address number.
Turn off the hose or faucet when the water is not needed rather than let it run.
Consider forgoing the lawn altogether, and switching to succulents and other drought-tolerant plants. Visit some local native and drought-tolerant gardens and admire the blooms on the succulents and cacti, the rock gardens and native landscapes.
The record rain and bountiful snowfall this season helped sustain our water supply for now. Let’s help keep it sustainable forever.
James B. McDaniel is the senior assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.