When the Well Runs Dry

John Ferraro Building (LA Department of Water and Power)

John Ferraro Building (LA Department of Water and Power)

Last week Mayor Garcetti asked Los Angeles residents to cut their water usage by twenty percent. Even though he was basically echoing the governor’s message to all Californians, this was an important step. Angelenos have slowly been climbing on board the conservation bandwagon, but we need to do more.

Over eighty percent of the water we use in Los Angeles comes from outside the city’s boundaries. The only way LA has been able to grow as large as it has is by siphoning water from the Owens Valley and the Colorado River. But due to the current drought, these sources are drying up. In addition, many of the wells in the San Fernando Valley are contaminated, and cleaning them up will be a long, costly endeavor. Here’s a sobering article from the American Society of Civil Engineers web site.

LA to Treat Contaminated Groundwater for City Use

Not only do we need to conserve water in the present, we need to plan for water usage in the future. The City should take a hard look at current requirements for new projects, and ask if there are ways to build structures that are more efficient. In general, we need to look at how future development will impact our water resources. The City needs to consider the cumulative impact of proposed projects on our dwindling supply.

Restaurants in particular should come under special scrutiny, since they consume a great deal of water in their day to day operations. There are a number of ways they can reduce their consumption. Replacing water cooled refrigeration units with air cooled units is a good start. They should also be required to use low volume spray nozzles for washing food. Composting waste instead of using a garbage disposal will also reduce water consumption. I know running a restaurant is difficult, and all these things cost money. Possibly the City could require new restaurants to take these steps, but allow existing restaurants to make the changes over time. And in the long term, adopting these practices will actually save restaurant owners money.

The Department of Water and Power building is a classic modern structure from the sixties, designed by Albert C. Martin & Associates. One of the key elements of the design is the reflecting pool that borders the site. It’s not just beautiful, it’s functional, having been integrated into the system that cools the offices. But it also plays an important symbolic role. Surrounding the Department of Water and Power with an expansive reflecting pool makes a statement about how an area with limited water resources was transformed into a major city, known for its lush green lawns and sparkling swimming pools.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the Los Angeles we’re living in today.

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