Saturday, November 28, 2009

Down the Drain

Fact: An American household uses up to 400 gallons of water per day*

Fact: The United States uses more water than any other country in the world**

Fact: Our water supplies are running low

Yep, that precious liquid which is essential to life, is running low – very low. According to an article written by Mark Frauenfelder, (“Lake Mead Is Drying Up”) in GOOD magazine, our supply is far too low and demand has gotten way too high.

In 2008, Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa’s office released a document entitled, “Securing L.A.’s Water Supply” which outlined a plan to create sustainable sources of water for Los Angeles.

Some of the methods intended to cut back on water usage included: “investments in state-of-the-art technology…rebates and incentives…installation of smart sprinklers, efficient washers and urinals; and long-term measures such as expansion of water recycling and investment in cleaning up the local groundwater supply.” The goal was to conserve/recycle 32.6 billion gallons of water per year (this amounts to enough water to supply 200,000 homes for one year).

The document also laid out reasons for the decline in water availability:

- Climate conditions (e.g. low levels of snowfall, “environmental commitments” and high levels of drought) have reduced the “long-term availability” of water from our water sources.

- The city of Los Angeles typically receives water from five different sources including: the Eastern Sierra Nevada watershed; the Colorado River; the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta; the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD); and local groundwater and recycled water.
Water deliveries carried from the Eastern Sierra Watershed to Los Angeles, via the Los Angeles Aqueduct (LAA), have dropped dramatically. From 1995-2000 Los Angeles received about 63% of its water from the Eastern Sierra, compared to only 34% from 2001-2004. This is said to have occurred because of the redistribution of water to other areas for environmental purposes (improvements).

- Another problem is groundwater contamination. Los Angeles’ ground water accounts for about 11% of its total water supply. The San Fernando Valley (SFV), where Los Angeles gets the majority of its groundwater from, has such high levels of contamination, however, that much of it cannot be used.

What’s being done about it:

Under the “City of Los Angeles Emergency Water Conservation Plan” (Chapter XII, Article I of the California Water Code), water resources available to the City must be put to “maximum beneficial use to the extent to which they are capable.” This conservation plan has actually been in effect since 1991, but was not enforced until recently (as of August 11, 2009).

Los Angeles is currently undergoing Phase III of the ordinance. Some of the restrictions include:

- Using a water hose to wash paved surfaces including: sidewalks, walkways, driveways and/or parking areas (unless it is for safety or sanitation purposes).

- Using water to clean, fill or maintain levels in ponds, lakes, decorative fountains or any other structure intended for visual purposes, unless the water is part of a recirculation system.
- Washing a vehicle with a hose, if that hose doesn’t have a self-closing water shut-off or device attached to it. Residents of the City of Los Angeles also may not allow the water to run continuously while washing said vehicle.

- Irrigating lawns, landscape, or other vegetated areas while it is raining.

- Watering lawns, landscape, using irrigation systems, etc. on any day other than Monday or Thursday, between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. only.

While there are exceptions to these rules it is absolutely essential to the future of Los Angeles’ water supply that you abide by the restrictions outlined in this ordinance.

Now that we have all of that covered, here are some steps you can take to make a difference in the amount of water that is being used and wasted:

- Make sure you have a low flow showerhead & low flow toilet.

- Cover your pool. We Angelenos love our pools, and rightfully so – it gets incredibly hot here (thanks to the fact that we live in a desert). Keep water from evaporating as quickly by purchasing a solar pool cover, which will also capture and trap heat from the sun (thus, no need for a pool heater).

- Bring your car into a car wash, rather than washing it at home. Law requires commercial car washes to drain dirty water directly into sewers so that it can be treated properly and many recycle and reuse their water as well.***

- Bathe with a bucket in the shower. Capture the runoff water and use it to water the plants in your backyard. I’ve been doing this for the past couple of months, and I kid you not, roses that had withered away months back have started to bloom again! I know this may sound somewhat inconvenient, but think about the “inconvenience” of having no water at all years down the road…

- Turn the water off the second you’re not using it. For example, while washing the dishes, make sure that you turn the water off as you place the dishes in the dishwasher – many people unknowingly let the water run while loading. Even better yet, scrape the plate, place in dishwasher and let it take care of the rest!

- Wash your hair every other day or less. Not only will daily washing strip your hair of its natural oils, but a conventional showerhead spews between 2.5 to 4 gallons per minute.* You could save around 20 gallons of water per day (60-80 gallons per week) if it takes you five minutes to wash and condition your hair.

- Shave, exfoliate and deep condition your hair with the water off, during your shower.

- Abide by the rule: if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down.

Obviously, do your best not to use more water than needed. This sounds simple enough, but had it been our mantra for the past years, we wouldn’t have gotten ourselves into this mess with no water to clean it up.

* “This is a Turn Off” by Adam Matthews & Siobahan O’ Connor in GOOD magazine
**Based on the average per-capita water use in the U.S.
***Information from Sophie Uliano’s “Gorgeously Green 8 Simple Steps to an Earth-Friendly Life”

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