Editorial: Stormwater’s Stature Rises in a City of Very Thirsty Angels

For waterkeepers, the majority of L.A. and others in Southern California have shown a lack of responsible behavior toward water resources. Until now.


By Andrea Fox, Gov1 SeniorEditor

Los Angeles, Calif. has some of the highest per capita usage of water in the United States1. For waterkeepers, the majority of L.A. and others in Southern California have shown a lack of responsible behavior toward water resources.

Based on the 1922 Colorado River Compact, California receives a lion’s share of western water. Places like Las Vegas, Nev., are given a ration that was adequate for the 2,000+ people who lived there when the compact was made. Ask the “Water Witch” Pat Mulroy, head of the Las Vegas Valley Water District since 1989 and general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority since 1993, and she’ll probably tell you exactly what she thinks of Southern California’s role in sucking the reservoir at the Hoover Dam to epically low levels while she was presiding over a fast growing desert city2. (Editor’s note: I greatly admire her work and no-nonsense persona.)

Like many other cities in the nation, the modus operandi in SoCal has always been to get rid of stormwater as fast as possible. As L.A. grew, it began importing additional freshwater from the northern part of the state. Fast forward to today, and years of drought are forcing the city to rethink its water resources.

“There’s a realization that the answer to our problem can’t be taking water from someone else or somewhere else. Those days are over. There’s no more water to go get,” Richard G. Luthy, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, recently told the New York Times3.

Enter stormwater, freshwater’s ugly stepsister. ‘How do you like me now?’ she asks L.A.

Sheepishly, Mayor Eric Garcetti admits the city may have overlooked her. And with verve, he says he is going to reengineer the system and cast her as lead heroine. “This is a Mulholland moment,” said Garcetti, invoking the engineer of the dubious 280-mile Los Angeles Aqueduct project4. (Editor’s note: The aqueduct loses vast amounts of water to evaporation, but that’s another story).

The mayor’s plan is to increase the amount of stormwater the city captures from 8.8 billion gallons to 50 billion gallons by 2035.

Although it’s taken L.A. years to come to this realization, it’s a good thing the metropolis will start to view stormwater for what it is—a vital resource.

1 http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-1105-california-water-20141106-story.html
2 https://projects.propublica.org/killing-the-colorado/story/pat-mulroy-las-vegas-water-witch
3 http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/20/us/storm-water-long-a-nuisance-may-be-a-parched-californias-salvation.html
4 http://graphics.latimes.com/me-aqueduct/

Andrea Fox is Editor of Gov1.com and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.