Wastewater in L.A.: What a Waste!

Heal the Bay president Ruskin Hartley on what it really means to waste water:

On Wednesday I joined Mayor Garcetti, Gov. Brown and members of the President's Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience at a reception at the Getty House to kick off day-long talks about how the federal government can help communities confront climate change. And today in Fresno, President Obama is unveiling an aid package for communities hit hardest by the drought.

Even as we address immediate needs of drought-stricken communities, we must move beyond short-term aid and invest in a water system for California's future. And that presents historic opportunities for our work at Heal the Bay. Since 1985, we have been focused on cleaning up pollution in California's waterways and ocean.  We have had some remarkable successes.  However, many of the state's rivers and streams still fail to meet clean water standards and much of our groundwater is polluted.

There's much discussion at the moment about how we "waste" water by dumping it into the ocean. Every time I hear that I cringe. While it is not a waste to let water flow to the ocean (it’s an essential part of the natural system that keeps us alive), it is a waste to dump highly treated water in the ocean that could be reused to off-set dwindling imported supplies.   And we do this every day from countless wastewater treatment plants. One plant alone, Hyperion out by LAX,  flushes 250 million gallons a day of treated wastewater into Santa Monica Bay – equivalent to the water needs of 2 ½ million people. That’s unconscionable waste!

And then there’s stormwater. When it rains, millions of gallons of rain flush through the urban watershed via engineered culverts and channels, picking up pollutants in a rush to the ocean. In a naturally functioning system, much of this would infiltrate into the ground and replenish our aquifers.  Instead we are left with polluted beaches and depleted aquifers. Crazy! 

We cannot make it rain. But we can make much better use of the precious water we have. Today, Heal the Bay is advocating for solutions and investments that make better use of our local water resources: groundwater clean-up, stormwater capture and recharge, and increased recycling. Taken as a package, they will go a long way to cleaning up our rivers, streams, and ocean. And that will make for a healthier bay. I'll drink to that!