With little to no fanfare, other than a small story in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the latest attempt to bring sewage recycling to Los Angeles County was quietly dealt a huge blow last week, when the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District board of directors voted 4-0 to abandon its plan to help build a $210 million treatment plant. Unlike previous attempts to recycle sewage in LA County, this project wasn't discontinued due to the juvenility of L.A. voters and pandering politicians--who couldn't seem to figure out back in the mid 90's that water reclamation doesn't entail drinking poop.
Instead, seizing on the political zeitgeist of the moment, the board insisted the project was too expensive and lacked sound financing. Which may be true. But that doesn't eliminate the reality that the entire region is desperate for a reliable source of drinking water.
Southern California has enjoyed unusually heavy rainfall in recent months, but that does virtually nothing to help out our water supplies. Because rains are so irregular in our area, stormwater capture and treatment hasn't been viewed as economically efficient. Rains typically fall over a period of two or three months, meaning an expensive rainwater treatment facility would sit idle most of the year. Because of that, we could get 30 inches of rain in the next month and all that would happen is our stray trash and loose dog poop would wind up in the ocean--swept away in flood control channels like the L.A. River. Despite our water woes, Los Angeles has been built to remove water as soon as it falls, not to save it.
Sewage is undoubtedly the most reliable source of local water we can tap. But, by and large, we don't. This project would have been the first major sewage recycling project in Los Angeles. Compare that to Orange County, were one-fifth of all the water used is reclaimed wastewater.
That said, there's still a chance the San Gabriel plan can be saved. Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District's partners in the sewage reclamation plan--including The San Gabriel Valley Water Association--have vowed to continue with the project. Although they expect the plant's capacity will have to be halved.
Better than nothing.
But the fact remains that L.A. and L.A. County face serious environmental challenges--challenges that need to be dealt with regardless of the region's finances. Budget deficits may be problematic, but not as problematic as not having enough water.
The L.A. Vitamin Report is a column about quality of life issues by Matthew Fleisher. It is brought to KCET's SoCal Focus blog in partnership with Spot.Us, which receives support from the Cailfornia Endowment.