May 28, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Thirsty Santa Monica: Running Dry

The thirst is real, and Santa Monica is feeling it. The problem? Santa Monica relies on the Metropolitan Water District for a quarter of its water, and in spite of recent welcome rains, in the long run, those sources are drying up, driving prices sky-high.

The city has made heroic efforts to shift to local sources like wells and recycled water, but becoming water self-sufficient is proving to be an uphill battle. The commercial sector’s increasing consumption and new real estate developments are partly to blame.

Despite catching, filtering, and reusing water from storm drains, improving filtering systems, implementing new regulations, and investing in more water-saving infrastructure, our efforts to increase locally-produced water have largely hit a plateau. To make matters worse, we don’t even know how much water we can draw from our own wells without depleting the aquifer. 

Preliminary studies suggest our reserves might be over a billion gallons less than previously thought. Desperate for solutions, we’re drilling exploratory wells closer to the coast and implementing water-catchment and recycling devices around town.

While these efforts are commendable, they highlight the harsh reality of diminishing returns. We’re investing more to get less. Even if more water becomes available in the future, we’re approaching the limits of our resources, not to mention the unpredictable rainfall during climate change, crucial for replenishing our groundwater supply.

Santa Monica’s goal of water self-sufficiency has become increasingly challenging to achieve, despite the dedicated efforts and substantial investments. If we manage to meet today’s needs, our growing population and economic activity will push us further away from self-sufficiency in the near future. The Sustainable Water Master Plan might give us enough water for now, but the future holds a different story.

The water crisis in Santa Monica isn’t just parching throats—it may soon be putting a squeeze on the city’s economy. As water prices soar due to dwindling supplies, businesses, particularly those heavily reliant on water like hotels and restaurants, will be feeling the heat. Higher operational costs mean tighter profit margins and potential price hikes for consumers. The ripple effects could dampen tourism, reduce job opportunities, and stifle economic growth.

Moreover, the city’s ambitious plans for development and expansion may be in jeopardy. Water scarcity poses a significant challenge to sustaining a growing population and flourishing businesses. If water demands can’t be met, will the city have to curb new construction projects (as is currently happening in Phoenix) or limit the number of hotels? The future of Santa Monica’s economic landscape hangs in the balance.

The thirst for a solution intensifies as the economic consequences loom. Finding sustainable ways to quench Santa Monica’s water needs becomes not just an environmental imperative but an economic lifeline. Failure to act swiftly and effectively risks drying up not only the water supply but also the economic prosperity that Santa Monica thrives on.

Tough choices lie ahead. Either we drastically reduce demand, explore alternative water sources like desalination, or abandon our goal of self-sufficiency. But each option comes with a hefty political price, and the city seems hesitant to pay it. Will we sacrifice development? Limit hotels? Rip out gardens and yards? Our policies are trapping us without offering a real solution, even as the recent unusual rains temporarily veil the problem.

Sooner rather than later, the true cost of these policies will be revealed. Water rates will inevitably reflect the expense of obtaining new water. While we’ve enjoyed stability for now, expecting it to last forever is wishful thinking. Brace yourselves for the impact. The thirst is coming, and we’ll feel it in our wallets.

Daniel Jansenson, Architect, Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission.

Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow: Thane Roberts, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Dan Jansenson, Architect & Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect & Planning Commissioner, Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA & Planning Commissioner, Michael Jolly, AIR-CRE.

in Opinion
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