A world water supply crisis is emerging with water use growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century. Freshwater withdrawals have tripled in the past half century, with demand increasing by 64 billion cubic meters per year. A handful of countries share over 260 river basins and tensions are growing. The U.S., in the west and midwest particularly, is now considered to be at a very high water stress level.
Los Angeles is a particularly extreme crisis center for water consumption. Though not as dramatic or shady as the California Water Wars during the early 1900s, the situation now is actually more dire.
The LADWP imports 52% of the city’s water from the Metropolitan Water District, who controls the Colorado River Aqueduct, 36% from the LA Aqueduct and Owens Valley, 11% from groundwater, and only 1% from recycled water.
The LA Aqueduct is 223 miles long. The Colorado River Aqueduct 242 miles. 6.5%-20% of energy consumption in California goes to pumping water, mostly to Southern California.
We need to stop relying on the LA Aqueduct. Owens Valley was sucked dry in the 1970s and was only salvaged when litigation forced LA to slow down pumping, though pumping continues at a higher rate than the rate the aquifer recharges. It’s only a matter of time until Owens Valley is completely arid.
We need to stop relying on the Colorado River Aqueduct. The Colorado River is the most litigated river in the world, supplying water to seven states and parts of Mexico. This situation will become increasingly complicated because the Colorado River basin is showing signs of drought due to climate change.
There are financial implications as well. The DWP is planning to propose a 16% rate hike because current rates do not cover their expenses. The MWD will also have to propose a hike rate in the coming years, said to be as much as 40% by 2020.
We obviously need a palatable alternative. The number one priority is to increase the amount of recycled water. But the DWP is notoriously stagnant with changes to water resources.
The LA River is a prime site for potential water treatment centers. The LA River falls into the category of Mega-Infrastructure that can be retooled and reprogrammed for our benefit. The concrete infrastructure has the capacity to contain a lot more water than it does currently. There are also dozens of neglected portions of the river that can be considered Dead Space, most notably around the industrial area next to downtown LA, land that is owned by the Union Pacific Railroad.
There is potential in areas on or connected to the LA River and there is a clear need for a water revolution in LA. We already see precedents such as the LA State Historic Park utilizing an area previously owned by the Union Pacific Railroad, adjacent to the river, to foster an environment that breaks the relentless urbanity of LA. How can we take this one step further and start programming on the river itself as well? What kind of potential does the LA River have within its infrastructure? What techniques and strategies can we use to increase the amount of recycled water in Los Angeles?