“Drought, it’s got everyone’s attention and that’s a good thing. The storm we had at the beginning of March dropped two inches of rain. Normal rainfall in a year is about 14 inches and this two inches is the first rain we’ve seen,” said Gil Borboa, Water Resources Manager for the City of Santa Monica.
Borboa went on to explain that California’s water resources are in the snow in the Sierras in Northern California and the largest part of the State’s population is in the south.
“We haven’t seen the pattern of snow that we need and our reservoirs are drastically low,” said Borboa.
Santa Monica has local plans for both short term and long term responses to drought conditions. These include water conservation, the use of recycled water and digging new wells at the Olympic Well Fields.
“Our long term plan is to make Santa Monica Water Independent by 2020,” said Borboa. “We estimate that two new wells will produce 5000 acre feet of water per year and that, along with our conservation and water recycling programs, will close the gap between City demand for water and what we can supply with our own resources at the Charnock and Olympic Well Fields.
“Conservation programs will save approximately 1500 acre feet of water. Our residents are doing very well with conservation and resident usage is calculated at 85 gallons per resident per day and that’s a very good number. Add offices and hotels and businesses and restaurants and the number goes to 130 gallons per day per resident and that’s not a good number.”
The Santa Monica Urban Recycling Facility (SMURF) reduces the demand for potable water because it treats urban runoff (storm drain) water to the point where it can be reused. The City uses SMURF water to irrigate Palisades Park and provide irrigation water to Rand, the Public Safety Building, and the Cemetery.
Gray water, water which would otherwise go down the drain from washing machines and showers and so on, is now a realistic option in Santa Monica.
Borboa said gray water systems are regulated by the LA County Health Department and, originally the regulations made using gray water very difficult.
“It took quite a while for the County and Santa Monica, working together, to create regulations that are both protective and reasonable,” Borboa said. “I think we’ve done a good job and we are now starting to see gray water systems in Santa Monica.”
Steve Fleischli, Santa Monica resident and Water Program Senior Attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) shares Borboa’s concerns about water, drought, and climate change.
“This is an historic drought – the worst drought in California record keeping history. Making it even harder, we don’t know how long the drought will last and so we can’t know if we have sufficient water supplies,” said Fleischli. “The effect is hardest on communities in the Central Valley where some communities are okay for now but are at risk of running out of water. Part of the reason is climate change. While we can’t link climate change and an individual event we have learned that climate change affects drought frequency and intensity.”
In March 2004 scientist and UC Santa Cruz Professor Lisa Sloan and graduate student Jacob Sewall published a study titled, “Disappearing Arctic Sea Ice Reduces Available Water in the American west.”
The study predicted the loss of Arctic ice would dry out California.
Sloan wrote, “I think the actual situation in the next few decades could be even more dire than our study suggested.”
Fleischli said globally the primary concern was access to safe and sufficient water.
“We need to be concerned not only for Santa Monica and the LA area, we also need to be concerned for the state, the nation and the global community,” Fleischli said. “When you look globally almost 2.5 billion people don’t have access to sanitation and almost 780 million don’t have access to clean water.”
Fleischli will be one of the speakers at the Zocalo program on the global issues of clean water on Monday, March 17 (www.zocalopublicsquare.org/event/will-we-ever-have-clean-water-for-all).
Fleischli said the rules of civil society should also be looked at.
“In the United Stats we have the Clean Water Act and the Administrative Procedures Act,” said Fleischli. “Citizens have the right to petition the government, citizens have the right to sue the government to require enforcement of the rules and citizens can sue polluters to require them to follow the law.
“This is true in many parts of the world but not all,” Fleischli continued. “We have the technology to address many of these problems but if we don’t have the basic rules of civil society we won’t be successful. If people are not empowered to participate in decision making and chart their own destiny that is a severe disadvantage and that affects us all.”
I get being discouraged. So why bother? Nothing we do will be enough, say some.
Know that we are making a difference here in Santa Monica and that is good for our personal and environmental health.
Also know that, in California, we often set a standard for water quality replicated across the nation and in other parts of the World.
We are fortunate we live where the rules of civil society allow us to achieve so much. There are people in every part of the world doing everything they can, often in dangerous situations, to make water safe and sufficient and available to all.
Climate change and clean water are inextricably linked. And we are in a race to find the way to the resolution of both issues. Knowing this makes the work more urgent.
What Say You?