Los Angeles is home to beautiful beaches, magnificent mountains, and historic landmarks. Its desirable living conditions and amenities support a population of over 10 million residents and attract over 250 million visitors each year. However, the L.A. area is also prone to thirteen of the sixteen major disasters identified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Strategic urban and regional planning is critical in preparing for and managing extreme weather events, including droughts, earthquakes, flooding and fire.
In recent years, climate change has increased the frequency of natural disasters and extreme weather across the world. (We can thank our daily commutes, appetite for burgers and steak, and addiction to power for that). Safeguarding the water supply is a key element in preparing for a disaster here in Los Angeles, particularly as 85-90% of the water we depend on comes from external sources. Importing water from the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, Northern California and the Colorado River requires a complex system of aqueducts, reservoirs, and pipelines that are vulnerable to destructive effects of earthquakes, mudslides and depleting water resources.
- Developing more local water supplies;
- Reinforcing the L.A. Aqueduct where it crosses the San Andreas fault;
- Replacing segments of L.A.’s 7,000-mile decaying water pipe system (we've had 13,000 pipe bursts and leaks since 2006).
Developing local water supplies and updating crumbling water infrastructure not only serve as methods for seismic resiliency, but also aids L.A. in its ability to deal with other stresses (both anticipated and unanticipated). Infrastructure and systems planning on the regional scale coupled with action on the individual level is critical for accomplishing urban resiliency. California’s fourth consecutive year of drought for example, has required a serious reduction in water consumption - mandated by the state - for which urbanites have cut water use by 26.3% since June 2015.
From water conservation to local energy production, L.A. has been working to implement solutions for urban resilience and sustainability for many years. The City of L.A., in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey, has created a Resilience by Design initiative to promote projects that create urban resilience. Some of these protective measures include:
- 1,750 feet of earthquake resistant ductile iron pipes (ERDIP) laid along Contour Drive - the first of five planned installations in a Dept. of Water & Power infrastructure improvement pilot project;
- Special seismic designs for inlet and outlet pipes and natural wetlands incorporated in the design of the new Headworks Reservoir (under construction);
- Building assessment and development of a public list of older concrete buildings in need of earthquake retrofitting.
Emerging technologies related to climate change resiliency are surfacing, that not only allow populations to withstand and recover the effects of natural disasters, but also find ways to harness the power of extreme weather and use it to our advantage. For example, turbines designed specifically to harvest energy from hurricanes and tornados are in development, housing that can harvest floodwater for groundwater recharge and tidal power generation is already happening in New York City, and pavements capable of soaking up rainwater and snowmelt to redirect it into settling basins are becoming more available on the commercial scale. Research and development in architecture, engineering and landscape design is only just beginning for these types of climate-change solutions and achievements in disaster-preparedness technologies. By seeking opportunities within the scope of disaster planning, we may be able to achieve benefits that reach far beyond the extent of the storm.
How can this type of design thinking also support environmental goals in the day-to-day operations of a city? How can it evolve into groundbreaking technological advancements that harness mother nature’s immense power? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
Credits: Images by Alyssa Curran. Data linked to sources.
Postscript: Do you want to learn how to prepare for potential disasters in the L.A. area? Assemble your disaster supply kit and check out the City of L.A. ReadyLA website for more information!