In 2019, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti unveiled what the city calls “The Green New Deal.” This ambitious sustainability plan stipulates many policy and infrastructural changes to prepare the four-million-person city for climate change. To name a few, the Deal includes: transitioning the power grid to 100% renewable energy by 2045; modifying 100% of buildings to be net zero carbon by 2050; increasing zero emission vehicles, and electrifying all Metro and LADOT buses, to reach zero carbon transportation by 2050.
“The United Nations has warned us of the dangers of inaction or incrementalism,” Mayor Garcetti wrote in a statement. “This crisis is real. This moment demands immediate solutions.”
One solution is to reduce the city’s dependence on imported water by recycling 100% of its wastewater by 2035. Water recycling is neither a new idea nor the savior of arid California, but increasing water recycling to drink, landscape, and recharge aquifers is a smart and practical move that modern technology now allows arid cities to do so.
That’s what people mean by “imported.” They don’t meaning drinking bottled water from Fiji.
No matter how much politics versus strategy motived this climate policy, as the Mayor stated, the climate crisis is real. So what does this ambitious wastewater recycling plan entail? And does water recycling hold the potential to create a sustainable, drought-resistant water supply for Californians as they reckon with climate change?
The current water supply
Approximately 90% of southern California’s water currently comes from a combination of the Colorado River system, eastern Sierra Nevada, and northern California. That’s what people mean by “imported.” They don’t meaning drinking bottled water from Fiji. Imported means that the region’s water originates in natural systems outside of the region, and canals and pumps deliver it. As part of the enormous California State Water Project, the 444-mile long California Aqueduct carries northern California water down the west side of California’s rural Central Valley, over the mountains, where it sustains millions of southern Californians. To the east, canals carry Colorado River water across the desert toward metro areas. And the Los Angeles Aqueduct carries water from Mono Lake and the Owens Valley south into Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, or LADWP, is working with Los Angeles Sanitation and Environment, or LASAN, to flip that ratio to 30% imported water and 70% local sources in order to increase L.A.’s water-independence.
Clearly someone saw the writing on the wall. It’s hard not to.
Southern California will always require imported water. It just doesn’t have enough natural snow or rain to fully supply itself water. But a combination of conservation measures, local source diversification, and local groundwater recharge is meant to cut dependence on imported water by 50% in order to eventually source 70% of L.A.’s water locally.
Some describe the goal as becoming “drought-proof,” but “drought-resilient” and simply “resilient” are more accurate descriptions than proofing, which implies indestructability. Increasing local water supplies protects communities against interruptions in the imported water supplies, be it from drought, climate change, or earthquakes. For L.A., resilience includes recycling 100% of the city’s wastewater for both drinking and other uses by 2035. Clearly someone saw the writing on the wall. It’s hard not to.
Most of the Colorado River Basin, and 20% of the American West, is currently suffering from an extreme drought — what climate data suggests may be one of the most severe droughts the American West has experienced during the last 1,200 years. The Colorado River feeds Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir, and Mead provides water for upwards of 40 million people in Mexico and seven U.S. states, including California. This summer, Mead’s water level dropped to the lowest it’s been since the reservoir was filling in 1937. In June 2022, the Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner, Camille Calimlim Touton, told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, “A warmer, drier West is what we are seeing today. And the challenges we are seeing today are unlike anything we have seen in our history.”
On July 28, Mead had fallen to 1,040 feet. Who knows what the levels will be when you read this.
People are aghast at the human remains getting discovered in Lake Mead’s drying bed, but most of the 21st century American West’s water system is built on the assumption that Nature will always provide sufficient winter snowpack and rainwater to fill reservoirs with meltwater in spring and summer. It won’t.
Climate change strongly suggests that changing weather systems, reduced snowfall, and increased evaporation rates will keep reducing reservoirs’ fill levels while inflicting drought. What does that mean for those 40 million people who rely on the Colorado River and snow from the Sierra Nevada? It’s time we get aghast at that.
The Colorado River system once had an average annual supply of 14 million acre-feet. California gets 4.4 million acre-feet of that water each year — about 30% of total allocation. For comparison, Arizona gets 2.8 million. That water is used for farming, drinking, and non-potable uses such as toilets, showers, industry, and landscaping.
Water passing through Hoover Dam also turns the turbines that generate electricity for hundreds of thousands of people. When water levels plummet below 895 feet, it will not turn the turbines. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation stated that Lake Mead was at 27% capacity on July 18, 2022. On July 28, Mead had fallen to 1,040 feet. Who knows what the levels will be when you read this. There is no system-wide back-up plan, no Plan B besides reduced allocations, conservation measures, and crossing our fingers.
“Making greater use of recycled water improves our region’s ability to be more self-sustaining, reduces the need to import water over long distances. — Southern California Water Coalition.
Touton’s agency called for reductions of water usage between two million and four million acre-feet, starting in 2023. The California State Water Project is suffering, too. In average years, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which supplies Los Angeles, buys about 2 million acre-feet of water from the State Water Project. Because of the drought, it could only buy 100,000 acre-feet of water this year. That’s a mere 5% of their usual allotment. Angelinos have responded by significantly reducing their water use.
Drought drives California policy. Drought also leads the public to make certain personal changes, some which stick as structural changes—like permanently removing lawns and getting efficient shower heads—some which don’t, like turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth after the drought ends. People get tired of that, and they forget.
It doesn’t help that water is essentially invisible. It’s hard to remember how important it is, because it always flows when you turn on the tap, the wastewater disappears when you’re done with it, and water supplies spend so much of their time in underground pipes. Out of sight means out of mind.
The fact is, water covers 71% of our planet’s surface. Only 2.5% of that water is fresh, and only 0.5% of that fresh water is readily available for use. The rest is inaccessible deep underground, it’s locked in glaciers and the atmosphere, or it’s too polluted. Making smart use of that available 0.5% means reusing it indefinitely, because you can’t make more fresh water. You can only use what’s there more efficiently.
“Making greater use of recycled water improves our region’s ability to be more self-sustaining, reduces the need to import water over long distances,” says the Southern California Water Coalition, “and can help replenish and enhance our limited groundwater supplies.”
“We’ll need to focus more on capturing stormwater, reusing and recycling water, and protecting against floods while also increasing conservation.” — Jeffrey Mount
Californians care about water. A survey by the Public Policy Institute of California concerning Californians and their environment found that two in three adults—or 68% of those surveyed—considered the water supply in their area of California to be a large problem. That was up from 63% adults surveyed last year.
The latest survey found that this concern for water cut across California’s regions, as well as across political and demographic divisions, creating a unified majority. Sixty-eight percent of adults surveyed did not think that either state or local governments were working hard enough to counteract the current drought. This dissatisfaction also cuts across political and regional lines.
Jeffrey Mount, Senior Fellow at the PPIC Water Policy Center, says increasing water storage alone, such as reservoirs, won’t provide the stability California needs. “We’ll need to focus more on capturing stormwater, reusing and recycling water, and protecting against floods while also increasing conservation.”
For years, California communities have been reducing their total water use through conservation measures. While Los Angeles’ population has doubled, its water use has significantly decreased. Every arid city in the American West should also start recycling its wastewater, too, but water management is a complex system, and creating truly resilient water supplies requires paying attention to all of the pieces in that system. Water recycling is only one part of the puzzle.
How water recycling works
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average American uses 100 gallons of water each day, and drinks one gallon a day. Most of that becomes wastewater.
Wastewater is the water that results from our daily activities, including going to the bathroom, washing our hands, cars, clothes, and dishes. Every day our wastewater ends up in sewers that lead it to treatment facilities that turn it back into usable water.
Don’t be fooled by the “toilet to tap” taglines and other misinformation you’ll see in alarmist, anti-recycling campaigns and blog posts.
Recycled water, also called reclaimed water, is classified in two basic ways. There’s potable water, which is safe to drink, and there’s non-potable, which is clean enough to water landscaping like lawns, sports fields, and medians, to flush our toilets again, use industrially, use in fire departments, and to replenish aquifers.
California policy regulates the definition of recycled water, how and when recycled water can be used, and the state’s strong regulations, color-coded purple pipe system, and constant monitoring keep recycled water out of the public drinking supply until it is ready.
Don’t be fooled by the “toilet to tap” taglines and other misinformation you’ll see in alarmist, anti-recycling campaigns and blog posts. No one’s going to slip sewage into your coffee cup on purpose. Thanks to agencies such as the California Department of Health Services, recycled water is highly regulated, and advanced technology makes it safe.
Here’s how it works. Raw sewage cannot be released back into the natural system. It’s toxic. The early 1900s are filled with stories of local sewage contamination and public health issues, which is partly why wastewater treatment plants were developed in the first place. Reclamation facilities use a multi-step process to clean the water. Filters and large, open-air aeration tanks remove trash and sediments, such as rock and sand. Aerobic microorganisms consume organic material, including feces, and facilities disinfect that treated water using ultraviolet light, chlorine applications, and ozone. Chlorine eliminates the bacteria and unwanted pathogens, such as viruses, then the chlorine must be removed to make the water safe. It’s ingenious when you think about it. The world would be drowning in its own filth were it not for wastewater technology. Instead, we can reuse that water in a circular system.
Californians use treated water every day. The Orange County Water District led the way, launching its Groundwater Replenishment System in 2008.
To make recycled water drinkable, additional, sophisticated processing in what’s called an advanced water purification facility utilize reverse osmosis, oxidation, and ultrafiltration to remove more pathogens and chemicals—including agricultural byproducts and industrial solvents.
Scientists like those at the University of California Riverside, and Professor Kartrick Chandran at Columbia University, are continually researching new improved ways to clean wastewater, including methods that require less energy and that even use the processes’ gaseous byproducts into biodiesel. This is smart technology.
Californians use treated water every day. The Orange County Water District led the way, launching its Groundwater Replenishment System in 2008 to reduce their dependence on imported water. As the world’s largest advanced water purification system for potable reuse, the Groundwater Replenishment System can generate 100 million gallons each day, which can serve 850,000 people in central and northern Orange County. In 2012, California passed the Human Right to Water Act, which codified every person’s legal right to clean, affordable water. The big change is that Angelinos will drink more recycled water than they ever have, because climate change has made southern California’s water supply more vulnerable than it’s ever been, and adapting requires a radical approach, not more importation or high-energy water processing like desalinization.
Providing Los Angeles with recycled water
To increase L.A.’s dependence on local water sources, the city has formulated the Operation NEXT Water Supply Program. This vast, inter-agency, regional effort will increase stormwater capture, upgrade the metro area’s four treatment plants to produce even cleaner recycled water, including drinking water, and inject recycled water into the city’s major groundwater basins to replenish them and use them for storage.
Operation NEXT is projected to cost $16 billion dollars and be fully completed by 2058.
Los Angeles Sanitation and Environment, or LASAN, manages the city’s massive wastewater system, which collects and treats wastewater for the four million people in its service area, and includes many neighboring communities. LASAN operates four plants: the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant, the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant, the Terminal Island Water Reclamation Plant, and the Los Angeles Glendale Water Reclamation Plant. Combined, LASAN’s plants can recycle 580 million gallons of water each day.
Operation NEXT is projected to cost $16 billion dollars and be fully completed by 2058. To recycle 100% of L.A.’s wastewater by 2035, the city is acting quickly on its plans.
By December 31, 2023, the State Water Resources Control Board will submit a formal set of regulations guiding direct potable reuse from recycled water.
In early 2024, a direct potable reuse demonstration facility will go online near the Headworks Reservoir, by Griffith Park. providing recycled water to residents and functioning as proof of concept for the larger initiative. A second, small pilot facility with serve as another proof of concept for Hyperion, supplying LAX with recycled water for cooling, heating, and flushing its toilets.
The Los Angeles Aqueduct Filtration Plant, in the San Fernando Valley, currently removes sediments from water pumped from Mono Lake and the Owens Valley, on its way into Los Angeles. Operation NEXT will upgrade the Plant to process direct potable reuse to residents and serve as the city’s northernmost treatment facility.
Why should L.A.’s largest treatment plant continue dumping treated water into the ocean when it’s needed on drought-stricken land?
The Hyperion Plant, near Los Angeles International Airport in Playa Del Rey, is the largest treatment facility in L.A.’s system, and the city’s largest source of treated non-potable water. Right now, Hyperion treats 82% of L.A.’s wastewater and pumps most of it into Santa Monica Bay through a long underwater pipe. Upgrading Hyperion with reverse osmosis, advanced oxidation, and other capabilities will transform it into the primary source of the city’s recycled drinking water, rather than wasting it out to sea.
Hyperion has had environmental issues since it was built in 1925 to reduce sewage in the Bay. As recently as the mid-1980s, the plant was dumping solid, non-biodegradable waste into the Bay, including feminine sanitary pads and syringes, which effected marine life and beach users. This pollution led to the formation of the nonprofit group Heal the Bay, and Hyperion improved their operation. Given this history, it’s interesting to imagine Hyperion reborn as one of the saviors of climate-stricken Los Angeles. But it is logical: Why should the city’s largest treatment plant continue dumping treated water into the ocean when it’s needed on drought-stricken land? With additional processing, Hyperion’s water will be safe enough to pump into the large groundwater basins around L.A. County and the San Fernando Valley, replenishing local aquifers for storage, which can supply drinking water with additional processing, and buffering the city against climate change.
In a sense, treatment methods duplicate and accelerate nature’s purifying actions. In natural underground aquifers, environmental features such as rocks and gravel filter groundwater over time. It can take millions of years for natural aquifers to fill, and ages for water to purify. Some of what we pump from the ground literally fell as rain when dinosaurs walked the earth. With climate change, we don’t have much time to wait. Agencies pump clean treated water into underground basins to speed up the recharge and filtration process.
In the 1990s, critics often called recycled drinking water technology “toilet to tap.” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti now calls it “showers to flowers.” While it’s true that some of the water that passes through peoples’ toilets will end up returning to their homes through their taps, what that label omits are the many intervening steps. The whole approach also arguably misses the other localized ways that water recycling can function to truly make the supply sustainable.
Challenges and limitations
“Operation NEXT will be the biggest transformation of L.A.’s water system since Mulholland built the Los Angeles Aqueduct,” Richard Harasick, Senior Assistant General Manager at LADWP, told the California Water Environment Association. “It’s the NEXT big thing, it will literally be the NEXT aqueduct right here in Los Angeles.”
America loves big things: big plans, big statistics, big new infrastructure projects, big crowds providing big applause at big photogenic moments. But bigger is not always better.
“Every city should consider recycling their wastewater. We should embrace a circular water economy at every scale.” — Newsha Ajami
According to researcher and hydrologist Dr. Newsha Ajami, potable water recycling needs to be part of a larger water management strategy that decentralizes water recycling, diversifies sources, and tailors water quality to use: recycled potable water for drinking, recycled non-potable water for activities such as toilets, landscaping, and industry.
“If we really want to achieve long-term water resiliency,” Dr. Ajami told me, “we have to incorporate reuse and recycling at every scale, home, building, neighborhood, and then at the regional, city or service areas. But that’s not what water utilities are very enthusiastic about.”
As Chief Development Officer for Research in the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Earth and Environmental Sciences Area, Ajami is an interdisciplinary thinker and leading expert in sustainable water management and urban water policy. Ajami is pleased to see a city as large as Los Angeles embracing water reuse as a way to improve its supply’s resiliency. “Every city should consider recycling their wastewater,” she said. “We should embrace a circular water economy at every scale.”
But one limitation of L.A.’s water recycling plan is that it doesn’t change the centralized system that already exists, where utilities are in the business of collecting, cleaning, and selling the public’s water. “While potable water reuse is an important part of this transition, it in some ways reemphasizes our conventional centralized water supply and distribution model, which utilities’ business model is designed for,” she told me. “We should also use this opportunity to tailor water quality to its intended use.”
Asking questions about different ways of approaching resiliency can lead policymakers and the public to think about what water reuse really means.
L.A. has this one way of approaching water resiliency, but there are different ways of approaching resiliency. For her, rather than focusing too narrowly on wastewater reuse efforts on this large urban scale, a bigger question that needs to be addressed is: What does the 21st century require us to reconsider about our current centralized water supply system? Do we need to keep building big reservoirs and big treatment facilities, or do we need to rethink the scale at which we operate?
Asking questions about different ways of approaching resiliency can lead policymakers and the public to think about what water reuse really means, and how we can curb demand by reusing water at every scale and integrate this process into our daily lives in a more targeted, efficient way that acknowledges our new climate reality of shrinking water supplies. She says this can be done.
“The centralized water system we have built during the last century has been instrumental in enabling our social and economic growth,” Ajami said, “securing and delivering water where we want it and when we need it while taking away the waste, treating it and putting back to the environment. Our institutional and business model was designed to facilitate this process. The challenge is that this business model and revenue system do not lend themselves well to what needs to be done to build a 21st century infrastructure model which requires incorporating decentralized solutions at every scale. Very similar to the challenge electric utilities faced with operating their centralized system alongside decentralized systems such as solar panels on people’s roofs. Utility’s revenue stream can be impacted by people reducing their water use by conserving or going partially off the grid. This can ultimately impact the financial health of a utility, especially because the majority of water utilities are publicly owned and they only charge their customers to recover the cost of service including operating and maintaining their infrastructure system.”
Implementing water recycling at every scale from homes to buildings to communities offers a sensible way to strengthen local supplies by using existing resources more efficiently, rather than extracting more water from the environment and causing additional impacts. Californians who are concerned with what the desalinization process does to the marine environment should welcome this.
Large office and residential buildings can process their own greywater to water their outdoor landscaping and interior plants.
Consider how this looks in our regular life. Showers and toilets use nearly the same amount of water at home: about 30% of in-home water is used in bathrooms between sinks and showers, another 30% goes to toilets. In most bathrooms, showers, sinks, and toilets stand close together. Shower and sink water contain mostly soap and shampoo residue, nothing toxic, so it makes sense to lightly process that on-site to supply the neighboring toilet. “So what you need is a storage system that would hold the water out of the shower and sink,” said Ajami, “and then treated minimally, before using it to flush your toilet. All of a sudden, this can reduce your indoor water use by about 30%.”
Another example: Large office and residential buildings can process their own greywater to water their outdoor landscaping and interior plants. In both scenarios, greywater becomes more greywater. No one needs to drink that greywater, and no drinking water needs to be used for these non-potable activities.
Some Californians are already doing this.
Ajami offers a recent San Francisco ordinance as an example. “It basically requires every building that is a 100,000 square foot or greater to recycle water on-site, for non-potable purposes,” she told me, “so using it to water their landscaping, flush their toilets, anything that doesn’t require high-quality water. This ordinance actually enables building developers to reduce their water footprint while incorporating these distributed systems. In San Francisco, there are also efforts to generate centralized water recycling. So we are embracing water recycling at every scale.”
Ajami is glad to see L.A. creating the infrastructure necessary to keep its water in something closer to a circular system.
“I think we need to invest in home systems, building systems, and city systems in tandem. — Newsha Ajami
“Building recycling plants to treat our waste and redistribute is great,” she said, “hopefully it facilitates repurposing wastewater while taking less water out of the environment. What I am personally hope we can address in California is using highly treated drinkable water that uses lots of energy and resources, to flush our toilets, or water outdoor spaces, wash our streets and our cars.” This gets at what Ajami calls scaling water quality to use.
Right now, in our centralized model, every drop of water that comes through our homes, businesses, and buildings is one quality: drinkable water quality. So even when you use your water to do laundry and flush the toilet. That is a wasteful way of using water and energy. “So if you do recycling at different scales,” Ajami said, “you can then tailor quality to use. You can mildly treat shower water to reuse for flushing toilets. Or use your laundry water to water your outdoor spaces. Tailoring the quality to purpose is going to be the future, part of circular water economy. That’s why doing recycling at every scale is so important.”
When people try to understand how much we can all do with water recycling at these different scales, Ajami argues, cities like L.A. can start rethinking the size of the water system they are building and make further modifications to improve resiliency. Rather than focusing on simply building more treatment facilities to reuse wastewater for water utilities, this is the time to redesign the whole water system.
“I think we need to invest in home systems, building systems, and city systems in tandem,” Ajami said. “Utilities still need to be at the center of providing high quality drinkable water to our taps to be used for drinking, cooking, and brushing teeth, and not everybody is able to do that. You want smaller systems providing water that doesn’t need be high quality to meet our other needs while reducing our reliance on our diminishing water supplies and reduce our environmental impacts.”
Ajami sees the 20th century way of thinking about water is still shaping our 21st-century approach to water management, and she argues we need to rethink our infrastructure planning and design to fit our new reality, where demand has declined despite population growth and will continue to do so as we find new ways to become more water efficient.
“One of the reasons that we keep focusing on big infrastructure is because that is embedded in our 20th century infrastructure model,” Ajami said.
L.A.’s increased recycling and reuse capabilities truly represent a major step forward, but it leaves a lot of room for additional improvement
“Think about the centralized system we have. The utilities’ mandate is to secure reliable water supplies for the growing population: Population will continue to grow, so is water demand, hence there is a need for more infrastructure to meet the growing demand. But if you actually look at the data over the past 40 to 50 years, our total demand for water has been steady or declining despite significant population growth. Despite the fact that a lot of utilities believe that they are close to reaching the bottom of potential water use reductions, and think demand hardening is imminent, there are still many ways to use less water.” According to Ajami’s research, utilities need to size their systems around this 21st century user data and scientific projections and integrate the potential changes by adding more distributed solutions across their systems.
“Imagine if Los Angeles’ was designing their recycling plant 50 years ago, for what they anticipated to be their water demand today,” Ajami said. “Los Angeles’ water use at that time was about what it is today but was projected to increase steadily due to population growth. In a supply-side water management mindset, when decision-makers are expected to constantly follow the projected demand as a postmark, oversizing our systems is inevitable and communities could end up with stranded assets with underutilized capacity. But if we shift our mindset and start from the demand side of the equation, there would be many ways to stabilize or reduce demand ahead of making a major infrastructure investment. Under this model a system-level perspective and accounting of how different parts of the system are changing are key. Water demand has decoupled from population and economic growth while there are so many other external factors influencing demand such as more frequent droughts and enhanced public awareness. Utilities must account for these changes and adjust their business model to address their new financial reality.”
“Suddenly we’re going to have to find a way to use the existing water resources in a far, far more productive manner than we ever did before.” — Steven Soloman.
It’s complicated because water is complicated. Viewed through this wide-angle lens, L.A.’s increased recycling and reuse capabilities truly represent a major step forward, but it leaves a lot of room for additional improvement and should be part of a larger, localized system that distributes recycling, rather than keeps it centralized.
In 2010, journalist Steven Solomon published the book Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization. In it, he stated what many scientists and policymakers were already discussing: that future wars will be fought not over fossil fuels, but over clean water.
“Suddenly we’re going to have to find a way to use the existing water resources in a far, far more productive manner than we ever did before,” Solomon told NPR in 2010, “because there’s simply not enough.” Recycling can do that.
Twelve years after Solomon’s book made that chilling statement, California has suffered multiple droughts. Its reservoirs keep shrinking. Its hills keep burning. The public continues to aide conservation efforts by replacing lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping and abiding local restrictions about water lawns and washing cars. And other communities test new water management systems.
In response to the 2015 drought, the city of Santa Monica cut water usage by 25% and aimed to become water-independent by 2023. Instead of relying on imported water, it would improve its local supply and make itself drought resilient.
The Santa Margarita Water District in Orange County set a goal to recycle 100% of its wastewater by 2019, and to source 30% of its potable water locally by 2030. The Santa Margarita Water District imported 100% of its drinking water from northern California and the Colorado River. To create a more drought-resistant local source, they built Trampas Canyon Dam and Reservoir in 2020, Southern California’s largest recycled water reservoir, which holds 1.6 billion gallons of recycled water, equivalent to 2,500 Olympic swimming pools worth.
Voters, policymakers, researchers, city officials, and trade organizations still need to deeply rethink how California manages its water.
In March 2022, San Diego County launched its first advanced water purification plant, named Pure Water Oceanside. The facility will provide over 20% of the City of Oceanside’s drinking water, but combined with the proposed Pure Water San Diego project and East County Advanced Water Purification Program, Pure Water Oceanside is part of a larger regional push to reduce San Diego County’s dependence on imported water, and create a reliable, sustainable local supply.
From the perspective of a concerned citizen, rather than a researcher, any water recycling initiative resembles marked progress toward the solutions the state needs.
In a world of constant, disturbing climate change news, from melting glaciers to ruined crops, southern California’s attempts to create more dependable local water supplies offers evidence that human beings are sometimes able to make smart decisions that mix technological advances and scientific thinking with the long-term vision necessary to address intimidating environmental problems.
But voters, policymakers, researchers, city officials, and trade organizations still need to deeply rethink how California manages its water. Local initiatives are just the beginning of moving the state closer toward water resiliency.
Because of the city’s stature, L.A.’s massive water recycling plan offers the most high-profile example of a testable model and the start of a larger discussion about what else to do next.
Editor’s Note: Aaron Gilbreath, author of “The Heart of California: Exploring the San Joaquin Valley,” is a regular contributor to Capitol Weekly.