Once you have a drought like California is currently experiencing, it exposes all the common sense things we should have already been doing. Simply put—that means reducing our water use, and reusing that water again. That makes the proposal being voted on this Tuesday by the Metropolitan Water District to invest in water recycling and groundwater replenishment a critical endeavor. But the same agency—MWD—is moving at a much faster pace to undermine our water security and divert taxpayer money for a corporate giveaway tunnel project in northern California.
MWD will vote Tuesday whether to appropriate funding for a recycled water “demonstration project,” but long-term funding for the effort has yet to be determined. Meanwhile, MWD has undemocratically secured $800 million of our taxpayer money to help pay for a water project that will do nothing to alleviate the drought or our long-term water woes. For the third year in a row, the powerful District has voted to increase the amount of money is collects from property taxes to help pay for Governor Brown's massive water tunnels at an estimated price tag of $67 billion. Now renamed the so-called "California Water Fix," these tunnels would deliver more water to California's biggest corporate agriculture and oil companies, but not bring one drop of additional water to LA or improve reliability. That's $67 billion for special interests, and no water or benefit for Angelenos.
The safest, most reliable water is that which we capture and store here in our own communities. That's why Los Angeles and Southern California cities are looking to reduce their dependence on imported water and increase their local supply. Mayor Garcetti has set bold goals for LA to reduce imported water by 50% by 2024 to create a more self-sufficient water system in LA. With the drastic reduction of the Sierra snowpack caused by the drought and climate change, we have to move away from the fallacy that we will have ever more water supply, and finally start living within our means.
The proposed regional recycled water facility is a great start, and given the severe drought, we should aim to complete the facility in the fastest timeline possible that ensures safety and success.
A regional recycled water facility in LA is a great new source of water for Southern California. It would recharge our groundwater supplies, and could provide enough water to serve approximately 504,000 households for a year. Garcetti and other LA County cities that pushed this project should be applauded. The process would entail purifying treated sewage to near distilled quality and delivering the water to local agencies for use in groundwater recharge. The recycled water must first seep through the soil into aquifers, where the water undergoes further natural filtration. Then it would be pumped back out of the aquifer and undergo additional purification. Orange County is already way ahead of LA—having a groundwater replenishment system that can purify 100 million gallons a day. As it stands now, for most coastal cities, billions of gallons of wastewater is treated until it's almost at drinking water quality but then its thrown away into the Pacific Ocean.
Remaking our water system in Los Angeles—and meeting Garcetti's ambitious goals—will cost billions of dollars. The regional recycled water facility could cost upwards of $1 billion, with millions more going for proposed stormwater capture projects and groundwater treatment plants in the San Fernando Valley. But all of this investment in the long term will cost less than relying on even more expensive and dwindling imported water supplies—not to mention the thousands of good local jobs created in our city by investing locally.
If Garcetti wants LA to lead on ensuring a long-term reliable water supply, then we need to mobilize and prioritize today. The proposed regional recycled water facility is a great start, and given the severe drought, we should aim to complete the facility in the fastest timeline possible that ensures safety and success. It should not, as currently proposed, take more than a decade to move on safeguarding our water security—especially while we witness MWD moving at a much faster pace to raise funds (even going to such lengths as considering buying islands) to deliver more water to special corporate interests at our expense.
If we stand a chance at becoming a more water secure city by 2024, Garcetti needs to ensure that LA money is not wasted on the foolish water tunnels. And the Metropolitan Water District needs to wake up and see that if they want to keep their business model alive in the age of climate change, they'd be much better off investing in water recycling to actually produce a new reliable water source for all of Southern California.
Food & Water Watch