LA Drought Symposium: Water Leaders Call for Recycled Water and Stormwater Funding

“We need to do big projects, we need plans for reusing Hyperion water. But as clean water producers, before we start any new project we want to ensure we have the systems and technologies in place to protect public health.”
– Traci Minamide, City of Los Angeles

Traci Minamide (r) speaks during the LA Drought Symposium panel. Photo by Adel Hagekhalil.

During an October 13th Drought Symposium hosted by the Los Angeles Basin Section of CWEA and WateReuse California, local water leaders discussed the regions resilience in surviving this drought and their preparations for El Niño. The discussion was moderated by Patrick Healy from NBC Southern California.

The panelists emphasized three messages: first, there’s only one water, so let’s treat all sources of water with respect; second, the time is now to fund and build the recycled water and stormwater projects we’ve talked about for decades; and finally, water projects take a decade to build so let’s start building. For the LA area to be resilient through future droughts and floods, more local water projects will need to be built.

The panel included Martin Adams, Senior Assistant General Manager of LADWP; Robert Ferrante, Assistant General Manager of the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County; Gary Hildebrand, Deputy Director Water Resources of LA County Department of Public Works; and Traci Minamide, the Chief Operating Officer for the City of LA’s Bureau of Sanitation.

Each panelist was asked how their agency survived the drought and the greatest challenge the LA Basin will face in 2016.

“For us the big success is recycled water.  The last two years are record years for recycled water, we beneficially reuse over 100,000 acre feet each year (32 billion gallons),” said Ferrante of LACSD. “Our focus now is our Carson facility. Twenty years ago we never thought about doing a recycled project there and now we’re in talks with Metropolitan Water District about installing our biggest project ever for a total of 150 MGD per year. We’re excited about that, the technology is there, but we’ve got to keep the public and political will for it.”

DWP’s Adams is optimistic about the future even if drought is our new norm.

“We asked people to conserve and they did. 5% of LA homeowners switched over to drought tolerant landscapes,” he said highlighting that conservation messages inspired people to act. “If drought is the new norm, then we’ll adapt and we’ll find new local sources. We’ve shown we can get through this.”

For LA County’s Hildebrand the key to success is planning ahead. The County operates a series of dams, canals and spreading grounds that have been planned, constructed and maintained over the last 100 years. Hildebrand is also Chief of the Los Angeles County Flood Control District.

“We planned stormwater and dam projects 10 years ago and we recently completed them so we’re ready for this El Niño,” said Hildebrand. “You have to plan ahead and stay the course. We need to look ahead 10, 20 years and start planning for where we want to be.”

Roughly 15% of the stormwater that falls in the LA Basin is captured according to Hildebrand, and research has found it’s feasible to capture up to 30%. He pointed out a major challenge though – the large open areas are no longer available to capture and percolate stormwater into the aquifer. Capturing and infiltrating stormwater is going to be accomplished by smaller, more modest local projects. Private land owners and homeowners can help by capturing and infiltrating more stormwater on their property to help the region survive.

(l-r) LABS Directors Ian Mackenzie, Past-President; Miluska Propersi, Past-President; panel moderator Patrick Healy from NBC So Cal (center); Bryan Trussell, LABS President and Doug Walters, City of Los Angeles Stormwater Program.

According to the City of Los Angeles’ Traci Minamide a large scale recycled water project is coming soon after a decade of public discussions and planning. The drought has focused the City on increasing their local supply of water. In October 2014 the Mayor set a goal of reducing imported water by 50% before 2025 and by 2035 relying on local water for 50% of the City’s entire supply. The City worked with stakeholders to develop the “One Water Plan” and recycled water will make up 8% of the water portfolio. The City will need to reuse 50 million gallons per day to meet the 2035 goal.

“We need to do big projects, we need plans for reusing Hyperion water, similar to what LACSD is looking at reusing at the Carson Plant,” said Minamide. “But as clean water producers, before we start any new project we want to ensure we have the systems and technologies in place that will protect public health.”

Minamide said the entire City family is excited to support the development of a new advanced treatment facility and increase water recycling throughout the city.

Adams also emphasized protection of public health is our first responsibility.

“Water departments have a tremendous responsibility – we’re one of the municipal departments where people ingest our product,” he said. “We’re responsible for the public health. We have to keep our eye on the ball, we have to get a consistent message out about recycled water so the public will support new projects.”

The panel shared a passion for embracing the one water concept and collaborating across many different departments and public agencies in order to get projects done. However, each panelist noted funding and project approval ultimately are up to the public and elected officials. With all the talk of El Niño, is the drought becoming a distant memory and will support for new water projects start to evaporate?

“My concern for El Niño is people will forget this drought and they will not support new water projects,” said Ferrante. “We can’t put all the eggs in one basket: we need to fund a range of projects. And we need the public’s support. Hopefully now whether it rains a lot or not, the mind set is different and we all really want a sustainable future for California.”

The event was organized by
LA Basin Section of CWEA and WateReuse California

The event was sponsored by: ArcadisCarollo,
Hazen & Sawyer, and RMC Water & Environment

About the Author

Alec Mackie

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