Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

With California drought lengthening, city of Los Angeles develops stormwater capture plan

What once were orchards and citrus groves now is a dense but sprawling urban area. The city of Los Angeles is considering ways to capture stormwater near where it falls so that water can be made use of throughout the city.
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

With a historic drought showing no signs of letting up, the city of Los Angeles is drafting a new plan to use more local water sources by capturing storm water throughout the L.A. basin. At recent community meetings, officials from the Department of Water and Power (along with the city's Sanitation Department) have been showcasing potential ideas for the final plan, due out this summer.

This new plan would make storm water about 4 percent of the city's annual water budget. For the first time, LA is talking about making storm water a small but reliable part of the city’s water sources – 25,000 acre-feet, or somewhat over 8 billion gallons of storm water a year. For perspective, a typical one-inch rain event in Los Angeles County produces more than 10 billion gallons of storm water, most of which hits asphalt and concrete, flows into storm drains and goes to the sea.


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De Leon calls for climate divestment, seeks to pull coal investments from CALPERS, CALSTRS

State and local leaders break ground at a Louisville, Ky., coal-burning power plant in November 2012.
Dylan Lovan/AP

California State Senator Kevin de Leon says he’ll introduce legislation next month to get the state’s public employees retirement system off of coal.

Just back from ho-hum international talks in Lima, where he was a member of California's delegation, de Leon spoke at a conference in Oakland. It was sponsored by NextGen Climate, a nonpartisan group founded by billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer to raise the profile of climate change among issues in the U.S. political debate.

“With coal power in retreat, and the value of coal dropping, it’s time for us to lead again in moving our massive state portfolios to lower carbon investments,” De Leon said. “Divestment is about matching your values with your investment strategy — and still seeing positive financial returns… California has prohibited its energy companies from buying or importing coal power, and state funds should match that.”


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Election 2014: Why your vote for Controller matters to California's environment

On Broad Beach in Malibu, high tide not only wets sand but also retaining walls and broken down rock revetments. What happens next in homeowners' efforts to get sand trucked in here will go to the State Lands Commission - and the next Controller likely will weigh in on the problem.
Molly Peterson/KPCC

The most common question I’ve been asked about the statewide Controller race this election year is the same question I get every four years. “Wait, we have one?”

The inevitable follow-up question: “What does this person do?” Down-ballot races in California’s state election can seem like a tedious part of a the voting process. Most of us just don't take the time to research them. In 2010, the last time we elected statewide executives, 435,308 of those people who voted for Governor just didn’t bother to vote for anybody in the Controller race. 

But in addition to being the chief fiscal officer of the 8th-largest economy in the world, the Controller sits on something like 80 state commissions and boards. And if you’re interested in California’s environment, a biggie there is the State Lands Commission.


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Dirty for the drought: LA Waterkeeper wants you to take the no-car wash pledge

When it comes to water usage, not all car washes are created equal. Most car washes don’t recycle water, but more and more newly built car washes are starting to. Santa Ana Express Car Wash opened three years ago and its million-dollar equipment recycles 70 percent of its water.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Washing your car with a garden hose can use up to 120 gallons of water. Most corner conveyor belt operations use less, but all that water can add up, as we told you in August.

That’s why the group LA Waterkeeper is challenging motorists to drive dirty and pledge to skip car washes for 60 days. 

"Water conservation is the easiest and most affordable way to quickly reduce water demand and also extend supplies into next year," says Liz Crosson, the group's executive director. 

This summer Ventura County’s water agency asked people to skip washing their rides for a month; some people got detailing and car washes as a reward. Crosson’s group is hoping bragging rights will be enough of an incentive. (Though there are some as-yet-undisclosed prizes.)

People who live in LA are really excited and interested by the cars that they drive," Crosson says. "And frankly, you can have a dirty car and you can have a sticker and have an excuse for having a dirty car so it saves your image too."


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Conservation groups seek protection of monarch butterfly

File: Western monarch butterfly in Huntington Beach
Courtesy of Huntington Beach Tree Society

A group of conservation organizations teamed up with a leading monarch butterfly scientist on Tuesday to petition for protection of the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act.

The monarch butterfly is one of the most iconic butterfly species in the country. But according to conservation group the Xerces Society, the monarch butterfly population is in trouble.

“Many scientists estimate that there are about 33 million monarchs. And just for comparison, in the past, researchers have estimated more than 1 billion monarchs,” said Sarina Jepsen, who directs the Endangered Species Program for the Xerces Society.

That’s a decline of about 90 percent in just fewer than 20 years, Jepsen said.

The main culprit in the monarch’s decline is the weed killer Roundup, Jepsen said. Most monarch caterpillars breed in the Midwest, and feed off of milkweed. While Roundup doesn’t kill genetically modified crops like soy and corn, it does kill milkweed.


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