Flowing fountains, full swimming pools, and luscious landscapes disguise and downsize L.A.’s short water supplies. The truth is that Los Angeles doesn't have much water. Only about 11% of Los Angeles’ water supply is local; the remaining 89% is piped in from Northern California and the Colorado River. About 600,000 acre-feet from the Colorado River (enough for about 1.2 million homes for a year) is water L.A. is not even entitled to take, according to the L.A. County Waterworks Districts.
Lack of local resources (especially water, energy, and food), poses a threat to resource reliability and emergency response capabilities. Any disruption to the import or distribution system can harm the welfare of the L.A. region. California's multi-year drought has highlighted water security issues in Los Angeles, and the need for solutions that reduce water resource vulnerability (Read more about urban resiliency in the wake of climate change).
The current plan is twofold:
- Reduce demand (if we don't use it, we don't demand it, we don't miss it when it is not available);
- Create and store more resources locally.
Although over 70% of Earth is covered with water, only about 3% is fresh and less than 1% is available for consumption. Transforming ocean water into drinking water using desalination is possible; however, it can be expensive, and more significantly, harmful to marine environments. Conservation is an essential strategy for Angelenos to improve urban water responsibly and contribute to L.A.’s sustainable water future. Improving urban drainage and increasing storage capacity with underground detention basins and cisterns is also a key component to boosting local water supplies.
On average, Californians use about 196 gallons of water per day. Most is used outdoors. For every gallon of water that ends up on the street, or drips down the drain from a leak, one more gallon must be piped in, processed, and re-distributed for use. Though offenders of inappropriate landscape irrigation and leaky water fixtures do not usually face criminal penalties like L.A.’s most extreme water abusers (i.e. one Bel-Air home using 1,300 gallons an hour), the need for conservation efforts at every level is critical.
Water conservation efforts have been spreading across California since January 2014, when Governor Brown declared a drought state of emergency. From replacing lawns with drought-tolerant landscapes to turning off faucets while brushing teeth, Angelenos have been able to decrease daily water use by about 16% compared to the 2013 baseline month, according to the L.A. Department of Water and Power. As a whole, Californians cut urban water use by 24.3% in March 2016, indicating residents and businesses alike continue to make water conservation a way of life in our drought-stricken state. It also indicates L.A. needs to step up our game to get closer to California’s state average.
The “Save the Drop” conservation outreach campaign launched by L.A. Mayor Garcetti’s office in collaboration with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California continues to help Angelenos stay focused on conserving water, consistently urging residents and businesses to do more. Water rebates for residential and commercial properties are also helping L.A. build a coalition of water-savers set on decreasing water consumption even more. If you are reading this and thinking, “I could do more” or “I know someone who could do more,” to bring L.A. closer to that 25% cut in water use ordered by Governor Brown, that’s great! Here are a few ways you can help achieve statewide efforts to “Save the Drop:”
- Learn your approximate daily water consumption with the GRACE Communications Foundation water footprint calculator. Then challenge yourself to use less (I learned my water footprint is about 1,550 gallons/day!).
- Go meatless one day of the week. For a 3-ounce cut of beef, about 345 gallons of water was required to produce it. For 3 ounces of chicken breast, 98 gallons of water is needed. You could derive the same amount of protein with 7 ounces of tofu at 43 gallons of water, or 7 ounces of beans for only 19 gallons of water (Read more about the water footprint of food).
- Get a rain barrel to capture water for outdoor water use. Encourage your workplace, local businesses, friends, and family to do the same. Learn about LA rain barrel giveaways and rebates.
- Time your showers. For every minute you shave off of your shower time, you’ll save about 2.5 gallons of water. If you cut your shower down by two minutes, and shower 5 days/week, you could save 100 gallons of water in a month! Bonus: swap current shower-head for WaterSense® labeled shower-head and save up to 750 gallons every month.
- Capture water that escapes while you wait for it to get hot - in a bowl, pot, pitcher, bucket – whatever you have. Use the water to wash your car, water your plants, and mop the floor.
- Recycle all of your plastic waste! You’ll save up to 12 gallons per day.
What are some strategies, urban designs, or programs you think would help L.A. create or store a greater local water supply? What are some other ways you conserve, capture, or reuse water? What are practices either here or in other places around the world that are great water savers? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
Credits: Images by Alyssa Curran and Brittany Curran. Data linked to sources.