Los Angeles Leading The Market On Water Conservation

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While California has been facing one of the most severe droughts on record, Los Angeles embraced a leading role in water conservation, efficiency measures, and strategies to create sustainable sources of water. We interviewed Marty L. Adams, Senior Assistant General Manager of the Water System for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to find out more about the utility’s strategies, best practices, and lessons learned.


Which water conservation ordinances are currently in place in California and Los Angeles? 

Marty Adams: The state government recently put a mandate in place for the state to conserve 25% of water as a whole. They apportioned it across all the different communities based on their average per capita water use. They use that to divide it into nine different categories, and each city has a different percentage that it has to save as a community.

Along with that, the governor has issued criteria for water savings, such as only serving water on request in restaurants, no watering of hardscape, sidewalks or driveway. Very much the same things we have in our Los Angeles ordinance.

One of the reasons that the State of California and Los Angeles are aligned is because when the state was developing the guidelines, they turned to some cities that were leaders, and Los Angles was a key partner in developing those guidelines. Los Angeles has been a national leader in water conservation for many years.

In Los Angeles currently, we are at stage two of our water conservation ordinance for irrigation, which allows at the residential level three days of watering up to 8 minutes a station. We have not gone to two-day watering yet, and we are hoping that we don’t have to.

There are only five cities in Southern California that allow less total minutes for irrigation than us. Four of these cities are by the coast, and one is inland that has a 36% requirement for water use reduction while we have a 16% requirement for reduction.

Our mayor, Eric Garcetti, has asked to drop voluntarily a day and not water the lawn if you don’t have to. So far, we are meeting our goals. Should we not meet our goals we will be going to the next phase, which will be a two-day watering.

What’s the baseline for the 25% water reduction requirement? 

Marty Adams: It’s 25% less water than we used in 2013. In 2013 it was a dry period, so a lot of places were already cutting back. In Los Angeles, by 2013 our demands probably were already down between 17% and 20% from where they would normally have historically been. So, we were asked to do an additional 16%.

California has put in place mandates for ultra low flush and ultra low flow fixtures. Are there any provisions for waterless urinals? 

Marty Adams: There is a lot going on with waterless urinals. It turns out it is not quite as simple to go just waterless because a lot of the times the plumbing won’t handle that.

In new constructions, there are mandates for conservation hardware, whether it is toilets, urinals, and other water fixtures. Ten years ago you could buy a high flow toilet on the market – you won’t find one in stores in California now, and part of that was driven by Los Angeles changing out over a million toilets. We drove the market of water conservation.

I think you will see the same thing with urinals and other fixtures. Large cities like Los Angeles will drive the market. At the same time, I don’t think there will be any rules telling people that they have to retrofit to waterless urinals because you are talking about a lot of costs. There is a lot of discussion about maybe requiring a retrofit during a real estate sale transaction.

What the state of California is looking at is changing the plumbing codes, so you will see some more standardization throughout the state. They are changing all sorts of building codes on the state level now, with the hope that it percolates through the cities.

What are the goals and strategies being deployed to improve local water supply and decrease the need for higher-cost imported water? 

Marty Adams: The first is to capture the storm water we do have, and of course in Los Angeles there is not a lot of rain. But we do know that in a big rainstorm we can have almost a year supply of water flowing down the L.A. river, the problem is that we currently have no means to capture most of it.

Aqueduct

©LADWP

There is a very accelerated effort to capture more water, not only at the large storm water catch basins that we have but also to try to do smaller capture projects. There are only so many big storm rains, there is only so much public property. What we need to do now is to try to catch smaller rains and water flowing down on the side of the streets. We need to do more things like bioswales, green streets, places where water can percolate into the ground.

The way it becomes water supply is by percolating into the ground water and then later be pumped out through our groundwater wells that are located mostly in the San Fernando Valley, but also a number in the central city.

Capturing local water also helps the city meet its TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) pollution runoff standards.

The second effort is to use recycled water. Currently, we use a fair amount of recycled water, but not nearly enough as we should as a city of our size. Most of it is purple pipe application, which is predominantly irrigation. The problem with irrigation is that you use it a lot in the summer time and don’t use a lot in the winter times. It is not a constant demand.

In San Pedro, they are using recycled water as the sea-water barrier to keep salt water from intruding into the groundwater basin. That’s offsetting the amount of imported water.

We are also working with local refineries and other key industrial customers who can take recycled water, but the future is to take that recycled water and treat it at a higher level so we can use it for groundwater recharge and more applications.

As a source water, recycled water is cleaner than the water coming from the aqueducts. If you think about it, even the state water project that comes down from Sacramento Delta River, about 20% of that water is wastewater from upstream communities.

We are working to break down the barriers. That would allow us to increase the amount of recycled water use in the city and become part of our drinking water supply.

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