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Is Los Angeles finally going sustainable?

Thursday, October 27, 2016 2:02
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Read aguanomics for the world’s best analysis of the politics and economics of water In this editorial (via BK), the Los Angeles Times “gives up” Southern California’s claim on Northern California’s environmental water flows, i.e.,

In this sixth year of drought, the agriculture industry and its supporters have pushed hard for diverting every scarce drop of water flowing down streams and rivers to orchards and field crops instead of, as they often describe it, allowing good water to be flushed downriver, through the Delta, into the San Francisco Bay and out to sea.

But like the water that sustains the Everglades, the water that is allowed to move through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and into the Pacific is not wasted. It is the lifeblood of an ecosystem whose health is essential not just to a particular run of salmon but to agriculture, to the fishing industry, to the economy and to the special qualities that make California what it is.

[snip] Just as Los Angeles residents were prepared to take on a little more hardship and a little less water in order to preserve and sustain distant Mono Lake, to partially restore the Owens Valley and to repair and reverse other environmental damage — and just as they must adapt to even less water in coming years — growers too should be prepared to scale back their wants and needs to ensure that the state and its iconic species survive.

I know that the LATimes was a booster of the Los Angeles Aqueduct (entered service in 1913) and probably was of the Colorado River (1941) and State Water Project (1972) aqueducts, but it is certainly not “defending” water imports from Northern California here. It wasn’t so long ago that I was making fun of LA’s useless policies (this 2011 editorial doesn’t exactly apologize for Los Angeles’ use of water), but the renounced claim on Mono Lake above makes me think that Los Angeles has finally understood it needs to get along with its own, local water supplies.

Anyone got a different (non-)turning point?

You can see signs of that reality in terms of programs to restore the Los Angeles River (adding greenery as well as saving storm runoff) and reclaim polluted groundwater from local aquifers. You can also see it in “ok” programs for water conservation.

I’m happy to see those changes in policy, as I called for such “local resilience” back in 2008. What’s even more interesting in this recent opinion is the way the city separates itself from the farmers who are the biggest (80%+) users of that water diverted from the Delta. It’s clear (to me) that urban LA has decided to part ways from the farmers who use “urban water security” as an excuse for subsidized projects whose benefits go mainly to farmers.

Bottom Line: California’s cities don’t need to take water from the environment as much as farmers do. Urban citizens should therefore worry less about short showers and more about the subsidies that encourage farmers to destroy local ecosystems so they can grow and export cash crops.


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