No-brainer solution for LA's water: poised for defeat?

Water imageEverywhere we turn (including last week in the Los Angeles Times), the case is being made that the combination of conservation and natural approaches is the quickest, cheapest, best — and eventually unavoidable — way to meet Southern California’s water needs. By taking these approaches we can also address pollution, help to fix our broken economy, and respond effectively to climate change.

Yet, somehow policymakers seem to be missing the point.

They continue seeking large expensive technological “fixes” such as new dams, new canals, and new desalination plants.

Right now Los Angeles has an opportunity to easily and automatically integrate conservation and natural designs into all the new buildings and large retrofits of existing properties at little or no additional cost, through a suite of approaches called “low impact development” or LID. LID works with nature (trees, rain gardens, mulch, etc) and technology (redirected downspouts, cisterns, permeable paving) to capture, clean, store and reuse rainwater right where it falls.

The City of Los Angeles is currently considering a Low Impact Development ordinance. It’s a no-brainer…but it may be defeated by forces resistant to change.

Although the city’s Public Works Commission last month voted to postpone consideration of the LID ordinance, the opportunity to move towards a smart, low-cost, practical solution remains — the issue will return for consideration before the Board of Public Works on December 11 before it goes on to the City Council.

If we act to build water conservation into our homes and businesses now, we can not only save money, we can protect homeowners and businesses from price shocks and water shortages, as well as clean up our local ocean waters. It's the smart move, and it's not only smart, it's something that people want, as it's fashionable in the 21st century to "build it green."

Opposition to the LID ordinance came largely from the Building Industry Association and its lobbyists. They argue it will be too expensive for homeowners and businesses, and that varying local regulations are unfair to a struggling industry.

The cost issue is a red herring, because when new homes have roof drains and rain gardens and other water conserving measures installed from the start, they're not more expensive. Simply installing different showerheads and low-flow toilets has saved billions of dollars and billions of gallons in Southern California and around the country, according to the EPA.

Even retrofitting can be cost effective, as it's often possible to retain the first-three quarters of an inch of rain on a homeowner's property without expensive pumps or replumbing, according to Marilee Kuhlmann, who leads trainings in water conservation for G3, the Green Gardens Group. The EPA agrees.

We can solve this problem with creative approaches to nature and conservation (such as TreePeople's functioning community forests), and in the process clean up our oceans, save money, and protect ourselves from urban flooding, water shortages and climate change. The evidence is all around us that it works and that it is vital we do so. Other regions throughout California are moving forward in this direction, including Ventura and San Diego Counties.

Locally we’re just not connecting the dots…yet.

(For an eyewitness account of the Board of Public Works hearing and the resistance, see Mark Gold’s blog: “Spouting Off”.)