10 Big Questions About L.A. Rain & The California Drought
Is all this rain a good or a bad thing for greater Los Angeles? It all depends on your point of view, explains Communications Director Matthew King.
As a surfer, I hate the rain. As a Californian, I love it.
The recent series of downpours has kept me out of the ocean for weeks. I’ve gotten violently ill from surfing in water polluted with runoff and have learned my lesson. Maybe the deluge up north has been a boon for our parched state. But we are not out of the desert yet…
Below, we’ve answered our top 10 most frequently asked questions about what the #LArain really means:
1. Does all this rain mean the drought is over?
The recent rain might temporarily relieve drought effects, but it is not a cure-all. Yes, reservoirs up north may be filling again, but SoCal reservoirs are still dry. It will take years for our depleted groundwater aquifers to catch up. A good analogy is relating the drought to your credit card: a series of big storms is like paying off the minimum balance. You have temporary relief, but you still have a lot of water debt to pay off from the water you took out before. We require much more water to reach healthy and secure levels.
Locally, our regional infrastructure is not set up to store rainwater or capture runoff, and reuse it. The system is currently designed to move rain water to the ocean as fast as possible. Only 12% of Southern California drinking water comes from locally captured rainwater seeping into our groundwater.
— Curbed LA (@CurbedLA) January 6, 2017
2. What is “stormwater capture” and why is Heal the Bay so excited about it?
The L.A. region now imports more than 80% of our water from Northern California and the Colorado River watershed, using enormous amounts of energy and capital to do so. In an era of permanent drought, we simply must do a better job of using the water we already have by investing in innovative infrastructure projects that capture and reuse stormwater. We need to capture and infiltrate water on-site, replenishing aquifers instead of funneling runoff uselessly to our seas via the stormdrain system.
3. What needs to be done to improve stormwater capture in Los Angeles?
Runoff — if held, filtered and cleansed naturally in groundwater basins — can provide a safe source of water for human use. That means building so-called multi-benefit projects like green streets, water-smart parks and low-impact commercial development. Philadelphia and Portland have made enormous strides in treating stormwater as a resource rather than a nuisance, and so can we. The city of Los Angeles, for example, has created an ambitious master plan for stormwater capture. But all this innovative replumbing requires capital. Heal the Bay has joined a broad array of environmental and business groups asking regional lawmakers to craft a public-funding measure, perhaps in the form of a reasonable parcel tax. It’s a needed investment, one that will replace outmoded ways of thinking and pay dividends for years to come.
4. The rain increases supply, but what about reducing demand?
Most conversations about water in our state revolve around supply. We often fail to talk about demand, and how we can reduce the strain put on our unreliable delivery system by simply being smarter about the water we already have. Los Angeles residents have done a remarkable job of reducing their average daily per-gallon usage over the past decade, but we can still do better. The average DWP residential customer used about 68 gallons per day in November, compared to about 42 GPD in Santa Cruz. A good place to start is rethinking our love affair with gardens and lawns in arid Southern California. Nearly 50% of water used residentially in greater L.A. goes to watering lawns and other landscaping.
— Henry Gass (@henrygass) January 9, 2017
5. I thought rain was a good thing. Why is Heal the Bay worried about it?
Yes, we desperately need rain. But rain creates urban runoff — the No. 1 source of pollution at our beaches and ocean.
— Rachael Joy (@Rachael_Joy) December 17, 2016
6. How does rain create pollution?
Rimmed by foothills and mountains, Los Angeles County is like a giant concrete bowl tilted toward the sea. When it rains, water rushes along paved streets, picking up trash, fertilizer, metals, pet waste and automotive fluids before heading to the ocean via the region’s extensive stormdrain system.
— Brad Walsh (@BradWalsh) January 5, 2016
7. How do stormdrains trash the beach?
With memories of historical deluges on their mind, engineers designed L.A. County’s 2,800-mile stormdrain system in the ‘30s and ‘40s to prioritize flood prevention. Moving stormwater out to sea quickly was their number one goal. But it also has the unintended function of moving trash and bacteria-laden runoff directly into the Santa Monica and San Pedro Bays, completely unchecked and untreated. An average one-inch storm will create about 10 billion gallons of runoff in L.A. County stormdrains. That’s 120 Rose Bowls’ worth of dirty water!
8. What does all this runoff have to do with the ocean and marine animals that call it home?
Hundreds of thousands of animals each year die from ingesting trash or getting entangled in human-made debris. Seawater laden with chemicals and metals makes it harder for local marine life to thrive and reproduce.
— Heal the Bay (@HealTheBay) February 22, 2015
9. What about the human health impacts?
Beachgoers who come in contact with polluted water after storms face a much higher risk of contracting illnesses such as stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections and skin rashes. A UCLA epidemiology study found that people are twice as likely to get sick from swimming in front of a flowing stormdrain than from swimming in open water.
10. How can ocean lovers stay safe during the storms?
- Wait at least 72 hours before entering the water after a storm
- Stay away from storm drains, piers and enclosed beaches with poor circulation
- Go to Heal the Bay’s BeachReportCard.org to get the latest water quality grades and updates
- If you find a gutter that’s blocked, call the City’s Storm Drain Hotline at (800) 974-9794 so that L.A. Sanitation can remove the debris
— LA Co Public Works (@LACoPublicWorks) December 30, 2016
You can support Heal the Bay’s efforts to make L.A. smarter about water. Here’s how:
- Come to a volunteer cleanup to learn more about stormwater pollution and what can be done to prevent it. Invite family and friends to help spread the word
- Share information on your social networks and support our green infrastructure campaigns
- Become a member. Your donation will underwrite volunteer cleanups, citizen data-collection efforts and advocacy efforts by our science and policy team to develop more sustainable water policies throughout Southern California.