LADWP’s Sustainable Water Forum

September 19, 2008 § 5 Comments

Zaldivar, Alpert, Nahai, Ruiz and Villaraigosa) Photo by Scott Hill

Officials Drinking Recycled Water (Left to Right: Zaldivar, Alpert, Nahai, Ruiz and Villaraigosa) Photo by Scott Hill

I was invited to attend the city of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s (DWP) “Forum on Sustainable Water Supplies for Los Angeles” which took place today at the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant.  I was very encouraged by the event, especially by the articulate and principled leadership of DWP General Manager David Nahai.

The forum was presented by DWP in collaboration with LA City Bureau of Sanitation, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, Heal the Bay, TreePeople, and the Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils.  Presenters included Mayor Villaraigosa, Board of Public Works president Cynthia Ruiz, DWP commissioner Lee Alpert, State Water Board member Frances Spivy-Weber, DWP assistant GM for water Jim McDaniel, Heal the Bay president (and valuable water blogger) Mark Gold, LA Regional Water Board executive office Tracy Egoscue, and others.  In the above photo, Mayor Villaraigosa, along with Alpert, Nahai, Ruiz, and Bureau of Sanitation GM Enrique Zaldivar, made a show of drinking water from a carafe of recycled water that was imported from Orange County.

The purpose of the forum was more-or-less to tout critical aspects of the Mayor’s water plan.  Released in May 2008, it’s called Securing L.A.’s Water Supply (0.5MB pdf.)  I haven’t read all of it, but I’ve read and heard about it, and, from my vantage point, it’s moving us in a good direction.  Basically, we’re not getting any more imported water, so we’re going to have to make the water that we already have go further.  There are five basic stratgies for this: 1) Conservation, 2) Increased Use of Recycled Water, 3) Increased Capture of Rainwater, 4) Clean Up of Aquifers, and 5) Expansion of Groundwater Storage.  In this mix is a slightly controversial project to use recycled water (that is highly treated wastewater) to recharge our groundwater. This is being called GWR for GroundWater Recharge.  This was proposed/approved in the past, and but never got off the ground (or, should I say, got into the ground) due to vocal concerns from San Fernando Valley stakeholders calling it “toilet to tap.”  The chorus at today’s forum was along the lines of: we’re going to do GWR, and it’s going to be open and transparent, and the technology is so much better now, and, look, Orange County is already doing it safely!

From an environmental perspective, GWR and other expanded uses of recycled water are long overdue.  We’re importing water from all over the west, using it once, and dumping it out to the sea.  If we’re able to use it over and over, then that’s less imported water needed, less damage to the watersheds we’re importing it from, less energy spent pumping it (hence less greenhouse gases.)  Note that there is a valid concern that, if recycled water use really really takes off (many years from now), it could result in a much drier Los Angeles River… but I’ll save that concern for another blog.

Overall the event kept a very positive (nearly salesmanly) tone.  GWR is safe, conservation is important, imported water is unreliable (those pesky delta smelt, that uncooperative snowmelt), climate change is scary, desalinization is difficult, and, did we mention, how safe GWR is?  I’m not going to try to recap the entire forum, so I’ll just focus on the two speakers who I found most compelling.  I am not going to focus on Mayor Villaraigosa, though I have to give him kudos for the direction that his plan is taking us, and for the great appointments he’s made at DWP.

State Assemblymember Mike Duvall is a very folksy avuncular middle-aged Orange County republican.  Think Tom LaBonge meets Huell Howser, with a dash of elder statesman.  It was great to hear eager enthusiasm (about water, even) in the voice of a politician. As a Yorba Linda city councilmember with a background in drinking water businesses, he described his initial opposition to water recycling there.  From his seat on the Orange County Sanitation District, he became more familiar with the technology and the need for recycled water and is now a major proponent.  He invited the audience to come on one of the frequent tours he leads of the Orange County plant.  He decries lack of state interest in GWR water as stemming from opposition from upstate water suppliers who don’t want competition.  He touts the great efficiency of GWR, stating that it’s able to recover 97% percent of the water in the sewage (the GM of the OC Water District later pegged it at more like 85-90% – still very good.)  He even has a clever slogan to combat the “toilet to tap” – he calls it “showers to flowers!”

David Nahai, CEO and General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

David Nahai, CEO and General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

At the moral center of the event was David Nahai who has served as the head of  of DWP since late last year.  I’ve encountered Nahai before, in his longtime role as a environmental stalwart on the regional water board.  He’s great.  One of the mayor’s very best environmental moves was to hire him to run the DWP.  David Nahai is up-front, clear, principled and generous.  He continually emphasized that water solutions would be based in partnership and collaboration – with an array of city departments, other governmental agencies, neighborhood councils, community groups, and an engaged public.  He frequently voiced praise of (and deferred credit to) the work being done by his staff.  He uttered the most stark (for a public official) assessment of the damage caused by L.A.’s thirst for imported water, saying that, in the Owens Valley “we left in our wake an environmental calamity.”  Where most of drinking water establishment disrespects the tiny threatened delta smelt (basically the state can’t pump as much water due to a recent court ruling to protect an endangered fish), Nahai stated that he “welcomed that decision,” though it means less water for Los Angeles, because it means we can “prevent catastrophe” elsewhere.  Nahai described the mayor’s action plan as a “declaration of water independence” and stated that the most critical part of implementing the plan will be public confidence in the plan and the agency.  He called this “the sacred compact” his department has with the people of Los Angeles.

There’s a lot of work to do ensure L.A.’s water supply, to heal L.A.’s environment, and to authentically green the DWP… but I feel like we’ve got some great momentum with David Nahai at the helm.

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§ 5 Responses to LADWP’s Sustainable Water Forum

  • Dorothy Le says:

    wow very interesting joe! i’ve heard a lot about david nahai.

  • Rick Grubb says:

    While we support the use of reclaimed water at appropriate sites, and only after extensive purification, (not the tertiary product Tillman tried to spread in the Tujunga Wash that we defeated with then councilman Antonio’s Villagarrosa’s help many years ago), and without the intrusive tanks and piping associated with it’s storage and delivery, we must not continue degrading the unspoiled and scenic places (like the Upper Big Tujunga Wash), for the sake of watering a golf course that never should have been put here either. We strenuosly oppose the destruction of ever more native wildlands for whatever public or private development happens along. These are not appropriate places for more unchecked urban sprawl which continues unabated and unchanged while residents are told they can just drink out of the toilet and pee in the yard, developers can keep doing the same old digging us into an ever deeper hole, the same exact way we got in over our heads thus far!

    Require new construction to include; 1 Grey water systems for irrigation of 2. only native plant landscaping, and 3. onsite storm water capture in building code regulations for any new construction permit.

    This should have already have been imposed upon the development community! Where is the political will to make the tough decisions and wholesale changes we must make and soon?

  • Joe Linton says:

    From my friend Serena Lin who gave me permission to post her comments here: “Very good article, creek freak. Although perhaps I am turning into one too. Recharged water is very important and the entire toilet-to-tap thing is an exaggerated concern coming from one of LA’s better-heeled communities –… Read More so it’s unsurprising that they are using the OC as the leader in this regard. I must say, I like Nahai — but that was quite a rave you gave him. I also enjoyed the feel of the piece — very visceral, and I felt like I was present with those guys in their suits drinking their water. Makes me want to do more water work. Thirsting for more! — Review posted by Anonymous, jk”

  • […] LA Creek Freak writes about the recent so-called Sustainable Water Forum and describes a very different H. David Nahai from the one that I’m familiar with. […]

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