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Recycling Keeps L.A.'s Supply Safe, Plentiful

Advanced technology and nature's cleansing power make resource reclaimed from the East Valley project clean.

May 28, 2000|S. DAVID FREEMAN and FRANCES SPIVY-WEBER | S. David Freeman is general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Frances Spivy-Weber is policy director of the Mono Lake Committee

Water for the people who live in the desert we know as Los Angeles is serious business. Water is scarce here--we import the vast majority we use. Making sure there is no shortage requires a long-term view and creative solutions.

Ten years ago, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, at the urging of an unlikely partner, the Mono Lake Committee, introduced a significant water recycling program, the East Valley Water Reclamation Project, as a safe, reliable water supply for Los Angeles. The program was offered for consideration to policymakers and the public with the intent of assuring a plentiful supply of water, while taking important steps to address the environmental damage caused in the eastern Sierra by the diversion of that region's water to Los Angeles.

The program received broad-based support from a coalition including the Mono Lake Committee, the Sierra Club and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. It is among the largest water recycling programs in the country. State and political leaders, including former Gov. Pete Wilson, called press conferences in 1993 and 1994 to hail this project as an example of good government.

What's happened so far? In 1995, EVRP was approved by the city of Los Angeles, California Department of Health Services and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. It was developed as a firm supply that is not diminished under drought conditions, ensuring a safe, reliable water supply for this desert region that has and will experience serious drought conditions. State and federal funds provided more than $37 million to build the landmark project. Today it is nearly complete.

Now more than ever we must stretch our water. Wise policy decisions by the mayor and City Council have made Los Angeles a water conservation model. We use about the same amount of water today as we did 10 years ago despite a population increase of more than 1 million people. That is the good news. The bad news is that water use is starting to increase again, just as we prepare for 6 million new residents and a substantial increase in new industries in the next 20 years. The conservation efforts started in the last drought must continue.

What has happened since then? Los Angeles has had five years of plentiful water due to an abundant snowpack in the eastern Sierra, our primary water source. And although a drought is not driving water policy today, local leaders have the responsibility to plan for the future and cannot be blinded by the last several years of plentiful water.

Water recycling can address supply issues in times of drought and in times of plenty while providing safe drinking water. Today's advanced technology combined with nature's own cleansing power makes water from the East Valley project safe. Let's look at the facts.

The EVRP first treats water three times. At this point it meets safe drinking water standards except for the presence of nitrogen. The water is then disinfected to kill any remaining viruses or bacteria. After this rigorous, multilayered process is complete, the water then begins a five-year journey through sand--nature's natural cleaning filters--where the nitrogen is removed and the recycled water is mixed with the other ground water sources within the aquifer before being pumped and blended with the city's other water supplies.

The project's water quality is monitored by the DWP and by numerous agencies including the Department of Health Services and the Regional Water Quality Control Board. It is monitored before it enters the ground and during its journey to the aquifer. We know that, unlike ground water that originates from neighborhood lawns polluted by fertilizer and dog waste, from agricultural fields sprayed with pesticides, and water runoff from oil-infested streets that flows through the ground and moves to the aquifer, the purified recycled water will pass today's clean water standards.

The plain truth is that this recycled water will be the cleanest water in our ground water supply.

The East Valley Water Reclamation Project has not changed its goal since its inception--to maximize the water supply for the people of Los Angeles and lead the way in repairing years of water overuse that destroyed many sensitive environmental areas. The health and safety of the people who will use this water has been the absolute priority from the beginning. The project was planned by the same environmental and health leaders who are leading the fight for cleaner water in Los Angeles and across California. The DWP is an important partner in this effort. Moving forward with this project is an essential step to assure an adequate supply of safe, clean water for Los Angeles in the years ahead and a better environment for all.

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