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Down the Drain : The Average Los Angeles Resident Uses 111 Gallons of Water Each Day but Drinks Hardly Any of It

February 02, 1988|DAVID JOHNSTON | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles is flush with excess.

From the founding of the Village of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciuncula in 1781 until engineer William Mulholland figured out eight decades ago how to drain the Owens River on the eastern side of the Sierra into parched Los Angeles, water has defined Los Angeles.

But in this Infotechnic Age, the problem isn't so much getting water out of the tap as it is getting it down the drain.

The city is already under court order to make sewage treatment improvements that will cost $2.3 billion. And Mayor Tom Bradley warned in December that the city's sewage plants may not be able to treat it all in another three years.

To help cut the load, Bradley wants the City Council to give him broad authority to make homeowners and others invest in water-saving technology and landscaping. On Friday, he asked the City Council to implement emergency water-conservation measures: No more hosing down driveways. No more fresh water running through decorative fountains and down the drain. And no more glasses of water automatically appearing on the table when diners sit down in restaurants.

But are the sewers really brimming because of that curious tradition of watering the driveway? Will forgoing ice water with lunch save the city? And just how much water is being used, and who is using it?

Currently, each of the city's 3-million-plus residents including industry uses 178 gallons of water a day, according to the city Department of Water and Power. Two-thirds of that water is for home and apartment use.

The typical Los Angeles home uses 111 gallons of water per person daily, according to Winston Woo, a DWP water resources planning engineer. Of that, 78 gallons is used indoors, Woo said, almost all of which ends up in the sewers.

Of those 78 gallons, the largest usage is for toilets. Each day 23 gallons per person are flushed and nearly 5 more gallons leak, a federal study of water usage indicates.

That's enough water each year to cover more than 146 square miles of land one foot deep.

After toilets, the next big indoor water use is washing clothes, which adds 15 soapy gallons per person into the sewer system each day, the federal study indicates.

Showers add another 14 gallons per person daily to the sewer load, and baths 8 more gallons for a total of 22 gallons daily per person, according to the study.

Then comes drinking, cooking and personal hygiene, which consume 11 gallons per person daily.

Washing dishes adds another 2 gallons.

Outdoors, a lot of the 33 gallons per person used each day also ends up adding to the sewer burden. That's because, strange as it may seem, lawns create sewage.

Bill Maddaus, a managing engineer with Brown & Caldwell consulting engineers in Walnut Creek, said a study found that 25% of the sewer load in Dublin, Calif., in summer 1982 came from just such infiltration, two-thirds of it due to over watering lawns and gardens.

In Los Angeles, various kinds of intrusion, including excess lawn water, account for about 10% of the sewer plant load, according to engineer Frank Grant of the city Bureau of Engineering.

Keeping Our City Green

Bradley's office estimates that when irrigation of golf courses, parks, school yards and other greensward is added to water needed for home lawns, it takes more than 44 gallons per resident each day to keep this city on the edge of the desert green. That's 25% of all the water used in Los Angeles.

The mayor has vowed that the city "will adopt whatever reasonable measures are needed to reduce landscape water needs" by 10% in the next five years and 20% by the start of the new millennium.

While the steps Bradley wants to take will cut sewage now, the California Department of Water Resources points to the water agencies in Goleta, next to Santa Barbara, and Novato in Marin County as prime examples of what a water conservation ethic can accomplish.

"People waste a lot of water" said John Nelson, general manager of the North Marin Water District and chairman of the water conservation committee of the American Water Works Assn., the major professional association for water utility managers.

It was North Marin that suffered most through the drought in California in the mid '70s. Restaurants were forced to serve meals on paper plates when total consumption had to be cut to 44 gallons per resident each day.

During a crisis, Nelson added, people will endure hardships to conserve water but when things return to normal, people quickly go back to their wasteful old habits. "So we go after programs that use less water automatically."

Nelson and others said these techniques include water-pricing strategies and other financial incentives to encourage xeriscapes--dry landscapes using plants that require only rainwater--instead of thirsty lawns. Subsidies for installing ultra low flush toilets in existing homes and businesses and for buying clothes washers that load from the front could also help cut water use, Nelson and others said.

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