Even though it is raining (and snowing) this week across the region, this season’s California snowpack is still well below the historical average for the start of April. Millions of Californians rely on this critical source of water for drinking and irrigation. A small snowpack points to the urgent need for us to conserve and reuse local water. Dr. Shelley Luce, Heal the Bay President and CEO, shares what was top of mind before the COVID-19 response, and why we can’t lose sight of our water.
At the end of last year, I was high up in the mountains with family and friends. We spent our time playing outside, laughing for hours and sledding on a snowy hillside. When I caught my breath, I took cold air deeply into my lungs. The mountain air felt so fresh. There was no wind, and the tall trees on either side of our sledding hill were perfectly still except for the bounding echoes of our joyful voices. It was a beautiful moment.
At the bottom of the hill the dark brown earth, which smelled of moss and mud, peeked through the white snow. I heard the sound of running water and looked closer: there was a stream of clear water flowing down through the tiny meadow toward the road. And I was struck: this is our water. This is Sierra snowmelt. This is the backbone, the source of drinking and irrigation water for millions of people in California. First seeping through a meadow that holds water like a sponge, then emerging as a trickle that builds to a stream that meets others to form a river that supplies a farm or a city. This is our water. And it’s in danger.
Far away on the coast people are drinking, cooking and showering with this very water. This very water is being washed down a drain, through a pipe to a treatment plant and then pushed out to sea. So much energy expended to take this very water from the mountains and valleys it nourishes, down to our homes and businesses in Los Angeles, to filter our waste out of it, to send it into the ocean and then to keep taking more and more every day of our lives. All of this is happening while the climate changes and the snowpack, that backbone, is diminishing and its future is in question.
However, we are changing this wasteful system. In 2019 Mayor Garcetti announced a plan to reuse all the water from our City’s treatment plants. That’s millions of gallons a day of water that will get reused here in LA, so we can stop draining it from our mountain streams. This is proof: we can adapt to climate change by changing a wasteful, linear process to a sustainable, circular system that supports people and nature.
This was our greatest victory last year and the culmination of decades of hard work. We have much more to do in this uncertain climate to protect our water and the awe-inspiring life it nourishes. Together, let’s take action. In the year ahead, we need to sound the alarm on the climate crisis, we need to enact strong science-based policies, and we need to remember the earthly moments that move our hearts and embolden us to take on new challenges with compassion and fortitude.
I look forward to working alongside you in 2020 as Heal the Bay celebrates its 35th anniversary! Thank you for continuing on this epic journey with us.
Dr. Shelley Luce
President and CEO
This article was originally published in Heal the Bay’s 2019 Annual Report in February 2020.