Southern California environment news and trends

Garcetti, DWP's Marcie Edwards vow billing transparency, rapid improvement for utility's customers

ladwp building

Photo by Omar Omar via Flickr Creative Commons

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power apologized to customers on Monday for the extraordinarily long wait times many have had to endure when calling.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and the newly appointed general manager of the city’s Department of Water and Power sat down with the utility's top customers today to talk about ongoing problems with DWP's new billing system.

Six months after switching to a new customer billing system, DWP continues to field a flood of complaint calls from customers who’ve been billed incorrect amounts or not billed at all.  DWP’s website calculates the snafu cost the utility nearly $230 million in unpaid bills as of the last week of February.

Large businesss customers affected by the glitches, including hotels, a recycling facility, and Cedars-Sinai hospital, clustered around a conference table on either side of Mayor Garcetti. One man complained of a dense, multi-page bill with 90 line items and slid it down to the mayor.

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California Drought News: Picking up hitchhiking salmon

Dry RIver

Lauren Sommer/KQED

Charles Hueth holds up a tagged Chinook salmon for a photo before releasing it into the San Joaquin River.

Tuesday's drought news points to bad times for salmon, but on the upside, we're less likely to be conquered by Mongols.

  • Low levels and high temperatures in the Sacramento River may make it inhospitable for migrating salmon. That's why officials have come up with a plan to truck salmon to the ocean. (Sacramento Bee)
  • Recent rains didn't do much to bring us out of the drought, but it has allowed some districts to hold off on irrigation for a few weeks. (Modesto Bee)
  • Deborah Brennan looks at homeowners associations and how they're approaching water conservation. Will they relax rules that require green lawns? (San Diego Union-Tribune)
  • NBC Los Angeles has compiled a brief timeline of events related to the drought. (NBC Los Angeles)
  • Tree-ring scientists have linked Gengis Khan's success to a warmer and wetter-than-average period in Mongolian history. Undoubtedly, future historians will look back at our current weather anomaly and credit it for the rise of desert invaders (or not):

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How some graves at Hollywood Forever have stayed forever green

Molly Peterson/KPCC

Even when the greens weren't green in then-Hollywood Memorial Park, some families kept the areas around their loved ones' graves well-irrigated. View of Hollywood Forever, 2014.

It’s hard to remember that the Hollywood Forever Cemetery that now plays host to James Blake concerts and showings of “Point Break” had fallen into disuse and decrepitude by 1998. But the story of how the memorial park made a recovery also underscores the patchwork history of how Angelenos think about water.

Hollywood Forever’s story really starts with Jules Roth, who was born in 1900, a year after the cemetery opened. He owned the cemetery from his mid-thirties till his death. He loved porn, hated paying bills, and feathered his nest in the hills with the proceeds from selling off two lawns at the front of the cemetery along Santa Monica Boulevard. One of the things he never paid for was connecting the cemetery to city water. 

When he died, in 1998, he left the place $9 million in debt and far the worse for wear.

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Purple pipe means recycled water. Why purple?

John Loo/Flickr

Purple pipes, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California.

Large property owners like cemeteries and golf clubs are among the few who can use recycled water through most Southern California water systems. A special pipe, it carries sewage water that’s been filtered for solids and cleaned of some impurities.

This sort-of cleaned-up water can irrigate landscaping; it can cool equipment in industrial uses; it can be what you flush, say, in an office building or a hotel. As some of its advocates point out, it's the same water dinosaurs drank.

And it all happens through a pipeline that’s a distinctive color halfway between a field of lavender and Violet Beauregard after she licked the blueberry wallpaper (or Gene Wilder's waistcoat, whichever Willy Wonka reference you like). 

One pioneer of recycled water here in Southern California is the Irvine Ranch Water District.

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California Drought News: Water meters for all? Plus, how climate change connects to drought

Thomas Hawk

Three dozen water meters or more in San Francisco, but if this picture were in Bakersfield you wouldn't see any. Not everybody in California meters their water.

Monday's news engages your inner primate's sense of competition and asks: "Why isn't anyone keeping track of how much water my neighbors use?"

  • Paul Rogers reports over the weekend that there are several places in California where water use still isn't metered: Sacramento, Bakersfield, Modesto, Lodi, among others. (Mercury-News)

Is climate change causing the drought? That may be the wrong question. Against the backdrop of California's thirst, a debate continues, in part over the way we talk about science in mainstream media.

  • Research meteorologist Martin Hoerling writes an op-ed in The New York Times that expands on the comments he gave Andy Revkin last week. "At present, the scientific evidence does not support an argument that the drought there is appreciably linked to human-induced climate change." (NYT) He argues this week that the reason it matters is because diagnosis is key to prognosis:

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