“Sometimes droughts can be good for business,” said Jeanine Jones, interstate resources manager with the state Department of Water Resources.
“When I say that I get a lot of dirty looks,” she said to a group of water folks gathered at a drought conference Wednesday. “But when things are fine, if water is coming out of the tap and no one is yelling about your lawn, nothing changes.”
A drought is a crisis of water supply. Crises can take many forms. 9/11 was a crisis. The 2008 mortgage meltdown was a crisis. At the very least, a crisis prompts introspection, at most, change. There’s that necessity being the mother of invention adage that comes into play.
Jones was saying a fourth straight year of drought has precipitated new ideas for saving water.
There’s people talking about backyard cisterns so every homeowner can capture rain from their gutters. Gray water is back in vogue. Permeable parking lots are no longer sci-fi.
Sometimes inspiration rises like a firecracker only to burn out. Turf removal, ripping out lawns and replacing them with drought-tolerant landscaping, was an idea from the late 1980s-early 1990s drought. It was called xeriscaping and never caught on — until now.
“Five or six years ago I saw Phoenix and Las Vegas was doing this and I thought it would never happen here,” said Jeff Mosher with the National Water Research Institute.
Storm water capture kicked around in the 1990s; it, too, is back. Engineers capturing the water flowing down the San Gabriel River have known this for decades. Not so much on the Los Angeles River.
Ken Murray, a resident of Studio City and proud water geek, nabbed me at the conference. “Did you know the L.A River has an inflatable dam near Disney across the 134?” I promised to check it out someday.
Inflatable barriers pop up when flow increase, pooling water, allowing it to percolate into the water table or aquifer — another word on people’s lips today.
I’m hearing about so many ways to save water. New sources of water. Innovations that wouldn’t be happening if Mother Nature had kept the rain spigot open.
So God bless the drought. The absence of rainfall stirs thinking: We can all do with less water.
Murray also mentioned water stored under the San Fernando Valley, a sizeable aquifer that was once a source of potable water for Los Angeles until it became polluted. Since 2007, more than 50 wells were shut down. And the LADWP has not yet begun cleanup. Might their reliance on water tapped from the Owens Valley some 233 miles north of the city be the reason?
In the early days of Los Angeles, the L.A. River and the ground water beneath the San Fernando Valley
WAS the source of water for the City of Angels. Les Standiford, in his new book, “Water to the Angels,” lays out the compelling history of water in L.A., including Bill Mulholland’s role in building the L.A. Aqueduct.
I didn’t know the headwaters of the Los Angeles River runs through the San Fernando Valley. Standiford explains early settlers adjusted to the drought-rain cycles that affected the L.A. River, which begins in the West San Fernando Valley near Canoga Park, flows 45 miles eastward until it joins the Tujunga Wash near Studio City.
From there, it moves through Glendale Narrows, Griffith Park and to the ocean in Long Beach.
Mulholland was well acquainted with its origins. He helped dig the trenches and lay the first pipes, Standiford writes in the early chapters.
Knowing the history of water is more than dinner party chatter. History connects to the past and the present. Droughts and unreliable water supplies were issues the earliest white settlers of Los Angeles wrestled with, and residents still do so today, 150 years later.
If it weren’t for a drought, we may never learn new lessons. Maybe Mulholland is not the one to emulate here. But his story, and the story of water in L.A., is relevant more so today than yesterday. Like those rubber dams, we need to inflate those ideas and capture new methods for saving water.