Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

LA & Long Beach offer 2 views on water life after drought

Good news about the drought, right? Phew. What a relief. Guess we don't have to worry. My college roommate married a guy who takes 40 minute showers; I bet he's happy. Anyway, nothing to see here, please disperse.

Well, unless you're the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. DWP's Jim McDaniel wrote this week:

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.

Or I guess if you're the editorial board of the Long Beach Press Telegram. They've got some thoughts

Instead of storing the extra water, it is being released from Shasta, Oroville and Folsom reservoirs. These torrents cannot be picked up elsewhere in downstream reservoirs, which also have released huge volumes of water to avoid flooding from the melting snow in the Sierra.

If California had built the two new reservoirs at Sites and Temperance Flat, which were to be financed by a water bond passed by the Legislature in 2009 and scheduled to go before the voters in 2012, another 2 million acre-feet of water would be available.

What's interesting about these two editorials, though, isn't just that neither one of them is opening up fire hydrants and dancing in the streets. Though, neither of them are. They're demonstrating the slightly different strategies LA and Long Beach take to make sure they have a water supply.

Both LA and Long Beach get some water from the Metropolitan Water District - which itself gets water from the Colorado River Basin. California declaration be damned, that larger Western-state basin that holds the Colorado is still in drought. Metropolitan also gets Northern California water through the state water project - from which project, ecosystem management and court orders have slowed water flowing to LA.

LA recycles water, gets it from the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and pumps it from groundwater. LA's got the sprawling land under which to store some water. But groundwater cleanup in the valley is a big priority with LA because so much storage is tainted by chemicals and rocket fuel. (We'll be starting a "get to know your local Superfund site" next month.)  Long Beach doesn't have the land - and it doesn't have the backup the DWP has been able to build for LA. Both cities have worked in recent years to conserve water. Long Beach has a high-profile website, twitter campaign and public education plan to go with it (that includes mayoral throwdowns about who can save more):


Then there's this: Metropolitan - the water district that built southern California - long used the term preferential rights to describe the right LA and Long Beach and all the member agencies (26 in all) have to buy water from them. But Met changed the formula a couple years back. At the time, Long Beach, Riverside, the Central Basin folks, and a few others kicked. They argued they'd get less water. They did a lot of consumer education to get people to save water. And then started looking for what have proved to be increasingly expensive ways to get water, like desalination and dams.

Temperance Flat is a special favorite of mine because it's the dam idea that just won't go away.  (Here's a fun little write-up of the project, from the Bay Institute, which is a group whose stated mission is to protect the San Francisco Bay from the Sierra to the sea.)  I first toured it while I was working on a story about the San Joaquin River and water management below Friant Dam in 2003. Basically, it's a zombie, like the idea of a sequel to The Graduate: some people think it's abominable; some people love it; it'll never really die, but it may never live. 

That's the backstory. So there's a reason Long Beach's editorial - not written by city leaders, of course, but reflective of that city's priorities - focuses on dams. Just as LADWP continues to want the federal government to do more faster than it has done to make the groundwater table more usable. Neither approach fully excludes the other - but everyone's got to put their political capital where it makes the most sense.