Category: Opinion

Thoughts on the LADWP 2015 Draft and UWMP Process in General

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If there ever was a reason for the State Department of Water Resources to vet UWMPs that are submitted to it, this should be one of them. For 30 years, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s practice of reporting water that it can't access has undermined public transparency, making it appear that the city water supply was well situated for growth. The city’s long, persistent drought is a result of this activity. Allowing utilities (LADWP is not alone) to report access to water they have no access to makes a mockery out of the so-called ‘Show Me the Water Laws’ and the State's water laws in general.

The practice threatens water supply because once development is permitted using fictitious future supply data, the predictable shortages appear which have to be followed by hard choices when other equally important users feel the impact and assert their rights. Who should make the sacrifice? Agriculture? Fish? Hydropower? The environment? Perhaps we should connect growth with water and make the cuts there.

Urban Water Management Plans should be clear and easy to understand and accessible to the public. When shortages are projected, the UWMP should also offer enough detail to decision makers and the public what the economic costs and access to water will be if development continues over the 20 year lifetime of the plan. More important than knowing there will be 611,800 AF/y in 2020, residents should be advised on how it will affect their monthly allocations and how much higher their billing costs will go up.

Today's Urban Water Management Plans are written in wonkish, 'members only' style that excludes public participation in its formation and approval of the document. The style also excludes the public from the planning process where it is ultimately used. I know that many planners and decision makers don't understand the document. They instead look to the singular paragraph in the EIR that says...


This needs to change.


LA City Water Assessments Edge into the Absurd

Published / by dcoffin / Leave a Comment

Water supply assessments for two large projects have been approved by the LADWP water resource planners and is coming to the City of Los Angeles Board of Water and Power Commissioners on June 2 for approval. 

The LADWP cites its own 2010 UWMP claiming there is sufficient water for these two projects through the year 2035, and enough for all other "existing and planned future demands".

academy squareThe two projects that apparently passed muster are the 250 unit Academy Square Project in Hollywood and the 1,444 unit South Los Angeles Village Project in downtown Los Angeles.

The 2010 UWMP they cite projected that the city would be receiving a yearly annual total supply of 614,800 Af/y by 2015. That would be made up with 252,000 Af/y of LA Aqueduct supply, 40,000 Af/y of ground water and 20,000 Af/y of recycled water.

Given the bad news the entire state has been dealt with over the last three years and the city is begging residents to rip out turf in an effort to conserve, it would be understandable if you thought that the city wasn't quite meeting its water supply targets. You would of course be right to think that.

The problem with the assessments for these projects is that since the approval of the 2010 water plan, the DWP's total water supply has averaged just 550,887 Af/y which 10% a year short of what it needs to meet the city's needs. When we look at the categories that make up the supply we find that the recycled water supply is short of its 20,000 Af/y by 84% at just 7,392 Af/y. Groundwater to date is ahead of the 2010 projection by 60% but is unlikely to meet 2020 through 2035 annual projections due to its cyclical nature. The 2010 UWMP plan also cites 40,000 Af/y of transfers for which there is no evidence of receiving and it counts 14,180 Af/y of 'conservation' as new water which it is not.

The 2010 UWMP is stuffed full of water that simply can't be accessed and is plainly 'paper water'.

How the Board of Water and Power Commissioners can approve these projects with a straight face given the severity of the drought is anyone's guess. The city appears to be in a 'state of denial' when it comes to the shortage as it approves these projects big and small. But it's also in a 'state of crisis' when it comes to prodding the public into conserving. It can't have it both ways.

Editors note: The DWP has not met any long term water projections outlined it its plans since 1990.

A Couple of LA Aqueduct Films of Note

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A couple of indie films of note. The first I'd like to mention is The Longest Straw. You gotta appreciate a few young people who recognized the importance of the Los Angeles Aqueduct that they decided to hike along the entire route to make a documentary of it. Not sure if they make the hike into some of the more out of the way locations such as the construction camps at Water Canyon, Sun Canyon or Pine Tree where Mulholland's men tunneled through parts of the Southern Sierras but 400 miles is 400 miles. That's a pretty big challenge. Secondly I would like to mention Slake: Water & Power in the Eastern Sierra. I spotted this film on the internet as I was researching the LA Aqueduct for my KML a few years ago was. I don't know if they ever finished the film but the video is very moving.
LongestStraw slake
If you know of any more please email me or tweet me with your suggestions at @dcoffin.

Would ‘Lose the Lawn’ Solve L.A.’s Water Problem?

Published / by dcoffin / 1 Comment on Would ‘Lose the Lawn’ Solve L.A.’s Water Problem?

Would "Lose the Lawn" solve the City of Los Angeles's water problem? Throughout the state the crescendo to eliminate residential lawns has grown louder among water boards, agencies and political leaders.  In Los Angeles, a partnership between the Metropolitan Water District and the DWP will even pay residents $3.75 per square foot to convert their lawns 'drought tolerant' landscape with arguable curb appeal.

"Californians should water enough to save their trees, but should let their lawns go the way of all mortal things."

Felicia Marcus - Chairwoman Water Board

So given the following extreme example, how much water could the city save if every single family home throughout the city participated in the program and killed off their lawns? And what would the long term benefit be to residents?

According to the LADWP, the 627,395 single-family residential homes it serves used an average of 144.88 HFC (hundred cubic feet) of water during the 2013/2014 water year. The same year 764,402 multi-family residential homes used an average of 96.42 HFC.

In our example we'll ignore other patterns of usage between the two types of homes (residents per household, etc.) and simply assume that the difference is entirely landscape and cut the single family home demand to 96.42 HFC just like multi-family households.

By 'Losing the Lawn' we find the city would at most reduce water demand by 69,805 Af/y or 12%. The actual reduced demand would most likely be much lower.

Benefits are only temporary

Outside of finding a way through this statewide drought there is no real long term benefit from turf removal for the residents of the City of Los Angeles.

losethelawn2aThe main beneficiary of the reduced demand would be the Metropolitan Water District since the city would be buying less water from the agency each year. If the MWD could store this water and build up reserves that would be a good thing for all. However it will most likely will be a combination of storing some of the water and selling the rest to its other member agencies.

As for the city and it's residents, L.A.'s continued growth enabled by the departments heavy reliance on paper water would quickly wipe out all of the savings within ten years. The city's 2010 UWMP projects the demand will increase by 60,000 Af/y in 2025 and by 86,000 Af/y in 2030. Nearly all of this increase will be multi-family residential so effectively residents would be trading their homes lawn for density.

Since we can expect that the city's real water supply will remain flat, growth will assure that the city's future supply would be as tedious after the lawns are gone as they are today.

Urban Planning Meetings Rarely Discuss Water Supply

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L..A's recent drought has been going on far longer than the statewide drought. California's last drought was declared in 2008 and it ended in 2011 then re-declared it in 2014.  L.A's drought was declared in 2008 and was never rescinded. So why has L.A.'s drought been so persistent and growing by the day?

The City of Los Angeles has been pretty effective at hiding the problem from the standpoint of planning. And Neighborhood Councils? Forget about it.

Having been to many planning and land use meetings where new projects come up for discussion and a vote, I can't remember any time that water was ever brought up during the question and answer periods except for the times I brought it up like here and here and here.

My experience is that few if any city council members or neighborhood council members know anything about the Urban Water Management Plan, Water Supply Assessments, or SB 610 or 221.

During these meetings the discussion around projects generally revolves around the height of the project, the traffic impacts of the project, traffic studies, and finding ways to mitigate the impact of the additional of 2000 or so vehicle trips that the project will generate daily. From there the are discussions go on to window heights, set-ins, low income units, etc., but not water is never discussed.

All of those these other issues are really quite local (though traffic clearly has a cumulative effect over the region) and most can presumably be mitigated. Help with mitigation its usually provided by a deputy council member or staffer from the councils office who step's in and suggests how these things can be addressed by the city such as adding thirty seconds to a stop light or adding a left turn lane.

What is never talked about is water supply. Water is something that really can't be mitigated anymore since there are no more William Mulholland's and now it has become a zero sum issue.  It's easy to see why the city would rather talk about traffic, construction, building height's since people are more familiar with those things and those issues are arguably solvable.

Water on the other hand pulls into the discussion something that is far more regional and can't be mitigated. The city of Los Angeles has a history of saying it has water for these projects when it really doesn't. So they want the issue to stay behind the curtain. Projects usually describe the city's water supply in environmental documents behind statements like this:

A typical project environmental report declares that water is not a problem.

People should be demanding that local planning committees and councilmembers to take water supply more seriously and ask more questions before giving the green light to projects in areas with diminished resources.

L.A.’s Water Conservation Disconnect

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For the most part there is zero conversation inside city hall about managing water demand by slowing or perhaps putting an indefinite hold on approving water supply assessments and construction permits. Today's growth in Los Angeles is 'big', it's 'dense' it's 'vertical' and it's pervasive. Mayor Garcetti last September announced that he wants to expedite construction to build 100,000 new units by 2020 but where's the water? Clearly there is a disconnect between the city's growth ambitions and the effort to force residents to comply with drought restrictions.  Regardless of how efficient the projects are, they still create a huge demand for water when there is already a huge deficit. 100000unitsCities throughout California, particularly Southern California need to re-assess their plans for growth and throw away their compliance for bad laws like SB 1818 and housing policies like RHNA that blindly approve developments to meet SCAG's or SANDAG's desktop population targets without assessing if there is sufficient water to provide for them over the long term.   Pictured above: The Playa Vista II development will add  560 af/y demand to the city's water deficit.
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