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Volume 2 - Issue 9
June 2022


L.A.'s Other Options

by Allison Weber 

Dewatering Long Valley would account for just a fraction of Los Angeles’ water needs; L.A. can easily make up this water with conservation practices and their own local water sources, but for the Eastern Sierra— for the ecosystem, for recreation/tourism, for public safety— this water is critical. L.A. has other options for its water beside Eastern Sierra snow. The ecosystems and communities of the Eastern Sierra simply do not.


Los Angeles imports 85% of its water according to The River Project, costing residents $1 billion a year and threatening the ecosystems they are extracting from. The Colorado River Aqueduct, the California Aqueduct, and the Los Angeles Aqueduct provide L.A. with water, but as drought and climate change worsen, the dependability of these resources is threatened. With a dwindling snowpack, it becomes more important than ever that more water stays in these ecosystems before it is too late. 


This does not mean that Angelenos should go without water. However, it does mean that it is time for Los Angeles to reduce its reliance on imported water and look towards its own water resources and —despite popular misconceptions— it does have its own water resources! 


Stormwater Capture: It does rain in L.A.!

Stormwater capture, the use of LA’s own natural rainfall, is critical on the path towards water self-sufficiency for the city. The L.A. area is classified as a mediterranean climate, not a desert, and it receives an average of 14.67 inches of rainfall per year,which could be saved, increasing L.A.’s self-sufficiency and relieving the stress put upon the ecosystems from which L.A. imports. The narrative that L.A. is a desert justifies the idea that the city must import water— when really, the city is simply not currently set up to source more water locally. 



The Pacific Institute, a water think tank based in Oakland, estimates that the state of California could capture 580,000 acre-feet of stormwater in urban areas even in a dry year, and up to 3 million acre-feet of stormwater in a wet year. Researchers from the Pacific Institute found the biggest water-saving potential to be in the South Coast region of Southern California, which includes Los Angeles and San Diego, due in part to the many areas in which stormwater could be captured.


The city of Los Angeles is designed to mitigate flood risk: while that average of 14.67 inches a year may not seem like much, heavy rains and coastal flooding (such as from sea level rise and storm surges) pose a significant danger to low-lying areas in the L.A. area. It was the danger of floods, such as the 1914 flood which resulted in $10 million in damages, which led to the paving of the L.A. river and the further channeling of L.A.’s natural rainfall into the Pacific Ocean. 


In the record rainfall of December 2022, 29.5 billion gallons of fresh water flowed from the L.A. River into Long Beach Harbor. According to the Los Angeles Times, that is 62% more water than the nation’s largest desalination plant in San Diego produces in an entire year and is enough to supply up to 181,000 families a year. 


In an average year, 600,000 acre feet of water (196 billion gallons of water) of rainwater is channeled from the L.A. River into the ocean. The average person uses 82 gallons of water per day.


About 90% of the San Gabriel River is captured and spread in areas to replenish aquifers via porous gravel and sand layers under the basin, as opposed to the L.A. River, which loses about 90% of its flow to the Pacific as a result of impervious conditions such as asphalt, concrete, and urban density. This actually harms the area’s ability to mitigate flood risk, making it a lose-lose situation


Groundwater Remediation: Stewarding Water Reserves 

Historically, more than 80% of the region’s rainfall infiltrated local groundwater basins. Yet, impervious surfaces prevent this recharge, and to make matters worse, much of L.A.’s groundwater is now contaminated due to past practices from the manufacturing and aerospace industries. As a result, L.A.’s groundwater has accounted for only 10% of the city’s overall supply of drinking water in the last 5 years. 

If the San Fernando Valley Groundwater Basin, the aquifer to which L.A. has groundwater use rights, was clean, it could provide drinking water to more than 800,000 Angelenos. While aquifers across the state are being depleted, groundwater remediation projects offer a plausible solution toward self-sufficiency.

Investing in groundwater remediation is a critical part of Santa Monica’s goal to source 90% of the city’s water locally.


The Environmental Protection Agency and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power should expand their testing for a broad range of chemicals to ensure the safety of the groundwater for both the people and environment of L.A. and allow further use of these resources.


Wastewater Recycling: Making Water Go Farther 

L.A. treats over 400,000 acre-feet per year (AFY) of wastewater, yet most of it is simply discharged into the ocean. Wastewater recycling is one of the pathways forward for L.A. to source more of its water locally. Los Angeles County already treats enough water to service 1.8 million people, yet only 2% of L.A. 's 400-million-gallon-plus daily consumption is recovered wastewater, and most of that tiny figure is still in park and golf course irrigation. 


L.A. can look to a real desert for inspiration in increasing wastewater recycling; despite having more limited water supplies than Southern California, Israel actually has a water surplus. The country invested heavily in wastewater recycling and today 90% of its wastewater is recycled and reused.


In a 2016 poll from Xylem, 89% of California residents were found to be “more willing to use recycled water after learning about the advanced treatment processes used to make it clean and safe.”


Colorado already has over a dozen facilities for wastewater recycling, reducing stress on the Colorado River. 


Now is the time for LADWP to take the next step with its groundwater recycling and push forward programs like Operation NEXT, a partnership with L.A. Sanitation and Environment (LASAN), which aims to maximize recycled water and allow purified water back into the drinking water system. Wastewater recycling is safe, effective, and takes advantage of water which has already been extracted and is in the public system. 


Conservation: Changing the Ways We Use Water

Changes in our behavior can be some of the most effective ways to make our communities, our homes, and ourselves more resilient to changes in water availability. We can make small personal changes, such as using brooms instead of hoses to clean driveways and sidewalks, placing a bucket under the shower head to collect water while the water heats up, taking shorter showers/shallower baths, using the two-basin method to wash dishes, convert to sustainable land and hardscaping, etc.


Photo by Dvaires on Flickr 

Investing in the Future

Climate change is drastically affecting the amount of water available across the west, and we are seeing how our systems are antiquated, set up for a different climate reality. In order to preserve the natural resources we rely on and set ourselves up for future success, we must invest in new systems and technologies. By investing in established systems and technologies like stormwater capture, groundwater remediation, wastewater recycling, and conservation measures, Los Angeles can invest in the future of not only the water supply, public health, and the health of unique mediterranean ecosystems, but the future and health of ecosystems in the San Joaquin, Eastern Sierra, and Colorado River areas. 


While we build new infrastructure and invest in new processes, however, we must not deplete what we have before it is too late to reap the benefits of our financial efforts. We must take control of our own futures by putting pressure on Los Angeles and state officials to do more, starting on projects that need to be started today, and conserving as much of our water as we can in the meantime. L.A. has other options it must look to before it dewaters Long Valley and before it is too late for the ecosystem and the economy of the Eastern Sierra.



We know that you’re interested in the immediate and long term health of Long Valley water resources. It is vital that we raise the awareness of LADWP misuse of Eastern Sierra water so that we stop it from happening.


Water is a critical issue that impacts us all. We are asking the public to be part of the solution and tell their story about the importance of water to their lives and livelihood. Please consider writing a Letter to the Editor expressing the need for: 

  • Water conservation in Los Angeles
  • Investment in stormwater reclamation, groundwater remediation, and wastewater recycling  in Los Angeles
  • The continued irrigation of LADWP ranching leases in Long Valley


Submit a Letter to the Editor: 

The Sheet:  email jacklunch@yahoo.com

The Mammoth Times:  email wendilyn@mammothtimes.com

The Inyo Register:  email editor@inyoregister.com


Need help getting started on your letter?

Please contact us at info@keeplongvalleygreen.org and we can help.



Why do YOU want to Keep Long Valley Green?

Let us know by writing to us at info@keeplongvalleygreen.org, or messaging us on our social media platforms: Instagram and Facebook @keeplongvalleygreen, and Twitter @LongValleyGreen.

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