Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

LA's water use creeps upward: LADWP officials plea for conservation

As LA uses more water again, LADWP's trying to send a message that you're costing yourself money.
As LA uses more water again, LADWP's trying to send a message that you're costing yourself money.
David McNew / Getty Images

L.A. officials have bragged mightily in the past few years about how much water we're not using. Last year, Angelenos used less water per person than any other big city (1 million or more) in the country. But it seems the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is losing a little bit of its swagger where water conservation is concerned.

In a news release LADWP says that "water use…has risen sharply since January." Senior assistant general manager for water, Jim McDaniel, is quoted:

In 2011, our customers reached a per capita water usage of 123 gallons daily – the lowest in Los Angeles in more than 40 years and currently the lowest among any U.S. city with a population over one million. Still, even with this remarkable achievement, recently we’ve noticed water use on the rise and with temperatures climbing and summer coming, we’re asking our customers to once again take a look at their water use and see how they can use less.

DWP and its customers accomplished that with a bit of a push. In 2009, the utility made water conservation mandatory, with sprinkler use limited to early mornings and late afternoons, no more than eight minutes at a time, three days a week. Water cops check to make sure you're not running water off into the street, too. But water cops can't be everywhere. And the problem of what to do with landscaping remains very real. The bulk of the recent increase? The utility says single family homes. Sounds like outdoor watering to me. (Multifamily residences went up too, but only by 1%.)

We're living on borrowed water. The brilliant Emily Green at Chance of Rain looks at the US Bureau of Reclamation's data, and notes that the headwater states for the Colorado River are bone dry.  Lake Mead is low. California officials say April's readings, when we're supposed to be at our peak, show the state's supply at about 55% of what's usual for water content in Sierra snow. To cover what we need, we buy water from the Metropolitan Water District, and, as has long been planned, the MWD  just bumped up prices about 5% for L.A. over the next two years.

Sure, we're not in a drought right now. But that doesn't mean we have an unlimited, plentiful supply, either. As the Casitas Municipal Water District's Cinnamon McIntosh wrote in the Ventura County Star recently, some overwatered lawns in Southern California get more water than all of Ireland does in an average year.

So what's the remedy? If you're saving water in L.A., think harder. DWP wants people to remember which three days of the week they can turn the sprinklers on. "Customers whose address ends with an odd number – 1, 3, 5, 7 or 9 – are allowed to use sprinklers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Customers whose addresses end in even numbers - 0, 2, 4, 6, or 8 – are allowed to use sprinklers on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays." They're asking people to check their hoses and irrigation sytems. And they're making the mercenary argument: it's your money that's going down the drain.