H. David Nahai was confirmed earlier this week by the L.A. City Council to be the new General Manager of the Department of Water and Power. KPCC's Shirley Jahad and Marc Haefele discuss Nahai's background, the challenges he faces in his new position, and some of the ideas he has to overcome those challenges.
Shirley Jahad: Good afternoon, I'm Shirley Jahad. This is All Things Considered on 89.3, KPCC. I'm here with Marc Haefele, dean of the city hall reporters. Hi Marc.
Marc Haefele: Hi, Shirley.
Jahad: Well Marc, there's a new man holding all the reins of power in Los Angeles. Well, at least all the electrical power in Los Angeles. David Nahai has been named the new head of the DWP.
Haefele: He holds the reins in his hands, and he carries the water for the city too. It's one of the biggest jobs around. It pays a cool $304,000 a year.
Jahad: He got a lot of kudos from the L.A. City Council as he enters the post as general manager of the Department of Water and Power, but he also got a little kick in the knee.
Haefele: You know, this is an interesting thing. You hardly ever saw a DWP head really with the enthusiasm that David Nahai received in the City Council yesterday, and yet almost before he was done getting the kisses on each cheek, the City Council was kicking about rate increases.
Jahad: So the L.A. City Council says whoa, wait a minute. Council members wanted to put the brakes on for at least a couple of months. They're asking for Nahai to come back with a little more specific information about just where those dollars would be going.
Haefele: The rate increases weren't any problem to David Nahai, who had approved them himself. He was the president of the Board of Water and Power Commissioners. That's the mayor's appointees to run the DWP. On the other hand, the City Council members get elected by the general public, and the general public hates rate increases.
Jahad: So we're gonna see ongoing grappling about possible rate increases, talking about 9% for electricity and 6% for water over the next couple of years. That's the proposal, anyway. Nahai, his background, he's an attorney. He's also an environmentalist, and he is coming forward at this point advocating for green power.
Haefele: As a matter of fact, he really has no choice in that, Shirley. Assembly Bill 32 strongly stipulates that by the year 2020, all of the industries and power companies in California, including DWP, will bring their emissions back to 1990 levels. So, as David Nahai put it during his confirmation hearing, I have no choice as general manager. I am under orders from the state to do this.
Jahad: So tell us, what are some of Nahai's suggestions, ideas, of ways to go green?
Haefele: There are a whole lot of options here. There's green power generation, like rooftop solar panels. There's hot water heater panels that you can put on the roof that will also use solar power. There's greater use of wind power and other renewable resources, and of course, for the key issue of emissions, there's cutting back on the DWP's coal consumption and other fossil fuel use.
Jahad: And what would it take to implement these things?
Haefele: He's said that it will likely take some kind of rate increase, or at least that's the way I heard him.
Jahad: And what about water, and Southern California's storied history with water and importing water from different areas?
Haefele: Well, any one of us who love that great old movie Chinatown know that, at least the basics of the idea. Water comes from somewhere else. Like the man in the movie said, either you move the city to the water, or the water to the city. That tradition is going to have to go by the wayside as courts are increasingly saying L.A. can't take these water resources. L.A. is going to have to learn how to get along without the amount of imported water it's had for the past century. Nahai made this point very clearly. He talked about capturing storm water that goes out to see. He talked about recycling waster water, which is always a controversial issue. And all of this stuff is going to cost a little money, too.
Jahad: All of this seems like a mammoth change for the DWP, both on the power side and on the water side.
Haefele: Even five years ago, you couldn't have imagined anyone at the DWP's top office sanctioning these options. Looking back 20 years, the whole idea of the DWP not stealing water from the Owens Valley seemed like a crazy idea, and now it's the law, and looking 20 years ahead, you're gonna see a green DWP that no one could imagine today.
Jahad: Thank you very much, Marc.
Haefele: Thank you, Shirley.