Southern California environment news and trends

Old-timey movies tell half the story about LA's water

LADWP's 1931 film "Romance of Water" told LA what it wanted to hear about the infrastructure that helped it grow.

Alex Cohen talked to film curator Scott Simmon this week, a conversation about the preservation of rare old timey movies about the west. Clara Bow ("Mantrap") was great and all, but what I loved about it were, of course, the ones about water. (Infrastructure!)

I never want to forget how we got here. And by we, I mean the white men who established the infrastructure for "Loss Angle-eez" (that's how they say it in the old movies) and by here, I mean, a dry basin we've made into a megalopolis. 

The language in the LADWP film and in the Hearst Newsreel is incredible. It describes chilly eastern Sierra mountains serving up water while "people three hundred miles away are basking in a semi tropical winter sun…" The great mountain lakes of the Mammoth area are "a fishermen's paradise where man may forsake the cares of the world among the grandeur and peace of nature." We have, in this imagination, "…a never ending water supply." The water was "wasted" in the Owens salt lake, until the "enterprise" of man harnessed it for the "benefit" of the city of the angels. 


From the LADWP board meeting, an update on once-through cooling

LADWP's Scattergood Power Plant.

Well, 2029 is the year.  

Earlier I wondered whether the DWP was planning to look for more time to end its practice of once-through cooling, using sea water to cool equipment at coastal power plants. The utility's already gotten 9 years past the initial end date for the practice, after a hearing in July at the state water resources control board. I wondered whether DWP was going to use the next meeting of the water board's independent experts on energy and infrastructure, SACCWIS, to push for more time. It seems I misunderstood. 

LADWP chief Ron Nichols says clearly that the DWP is doing 2029 - period. "That is our plan, that is our schedule, and that's what we're moving forward on is that."

You can listen to the discussion of the entire agenda item here. Nichols makes his statement about 3 minutes in, in response to a specific question. 


The easiest way to order fish in a restaurant?

Knowledge is power, right? Or at least half the battle, says GI Joe. But knowing too much about seafood can have the same effect as a phaser set to stun. That's the way it's been for me since Labor Day weekend, when I went on a marathon bike ride along the coast and I smelled fish fresh off of peoples' poles. After talking to Casson Trenor, who wrote about buying sushi right, I stay away from supermarket sushi. 

And when I do eat out, I tend to stay away from fish, because I moved here from Louisiana, where people in restaurants, even front-of-house, knew where their seafood was from. (And there, if they didn't tell you, you ran.) Here, I'm surprised how often restaurant staff don't know where fish come from, just as I'm surprised my friends can ever stop rolling their eyes at my questions. 


Surfers use beach experiences to advocate & educate

Today on The Madeleine Brand Show, they talk to Jess Ponting, the founding scholar at the new Center for Surf Research at San Diego State. I have to admit, at first I was pretty hostile to the idea that this is even a job. I also have to admit that comes from schadenfreude-envy, since he gets to be an academic and make surfing part of the gig. (As someone who got paid to listen to Sam Cooke and the Meters in New Orleans, I've not got a leg to stand on here.)

The other thing I realized is that leveraging surf tourism to improve conditions in far-flung surf hotspots maybe doesn't sound that wild around here because surfers are pretty consistently getting more active on environmental policy in California.

Issues Ponting's talking about in Indonesiadon't have much overlap with our endless summer. We don't have a foreign controlled surfing tourism industry; ours is pretty much native. American beach towns are pretty well empowered to hold on to their own revenue. But some decisions surfers make have ecological importance anywhere. Any surfer who chooses to hop a plane can consider the carbon footprint of a long-haul jaunt to Fiji. Chemicals used in making surfboards are toxic for anyone. 


DWP still looking for more time on once-through cooling?

LADWP's supposed to stop an environmentally harmful process called once through cooling at its coastal power plants. This summer the utility even got an extension of time to do it. An item at its commissioners' meeting today reveals DWP may want still more time to comply with new federal rules. In a memo to the board on the DWP's website, the utility describes a schedule six years longer than the law now allows.

Under the Clean Water Act, once through cooling is illegal because the process harms water quality and sea life. It sucks sea water in to cool equipment, then it spits heated water back into the ocean. That outflow kills tiny organisms, the bottom of the food web. A couple dozen California power plants have used sea water this way, including DWP's Scattergood, Haynes, and Harbor facilities. As a municipal utility, DWP has long sought to be treated differently.