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Drip, drip, drip

We're running out of water, but Angelenos aren't quaking in their Crocs.

June 18, 2008|Neal Pollack | Neal Pollack, author of "Alternadad," is a writer in Los Angeles.

For the last year, nothing less than a small torrent of water has been flowing down a two-block stretch of Franklin Avenue. I walk my dogs down this hill every day, and the water is always there. It pours down the street, ceaselessly; the concrete has developed a slick layer of algae. Do you realize how much water it takes for algae to grow?

The source of this water has become my obsession. For a while, I thought it was draining from the local elementary school, which I supposed I could accept. At least the waste was for the children. Then I noticed that half a block beyond the school, water was pooling in little cracks in the street and appeared to be flowing toward the school. Water couldn't be coming directly out of the street, right? So what was the source of this waste?

We're running out of water. The governor has declared a statewide drought. The Metropolitan Water District says it's already drained half of its emergency reserves. Not wanting to inconvenience anyone, politically or otherwise, the district has so far made conservation measures optional. We might get rationing next spring.

Meanwhile, the City Council and the Department of Water and Power are considering their options but not committing to anything so they don't anger fine citizens like Gerald Silver, president of the Homeowners of Encino, who informed the Los Angeles Times a few weeks ago that he plans to continue instructing his gardener to hose off his driveway and sidewalk.

Under the DWP's yet-to-be-instituted plan, "roughly" a dozen inspectors will patrol neighborhoods, slapping fines on homeowners for such behavior. Also for washing their car with a hose that lacks a shut-off nozzle or for running sprinklers midday. The first offense is a warning, the second costs $100, and the third costs $200.

Judging merely by my neighborhood's water use, Angelenos aren't exactly quaking in their Crocs. Midday sprinklers spend 20 minutes, three times a week, whipping water into the street. Driveways get slathered with 10 bathtubs-full when a broom, or wind, or nothing, would have done the job just as well. It hasn't rained for a month. And yet there are always puddles in the streets and streams running downhill.

The city has proposed one progressive solution: Using a sophisticated, reverse-osmosis technique to recycle wastewater. But in typical, ploddingly bureaucratic fashion, it won't hold community meetings on the plan until next year. The general manager of the DWP, H. David Nahai, acknowledged that the delay might kill the plan because it gives the squeamish time to organize opposition. "The more this languishes, the more the fires of suspicion are going to get fanned," he said.

I've seen "Chinatown" and read "Cadillac Desert," so I know that Los Angeles shouldn't even be here. But we are here, all 9-million-plus of us, nearly all of whom need to wake up and realize that if we don't stop wasting water, this city is going to wither and die. There. I said it, and I don't care if I sound like an old crank at a neighborhood council meeting. We're killing ourselves because of our stupid lawns and our weird obsession with wet driveways.

Empty warnings, dithering councils and cheaply made TV ads broadcast during Dodger games aren't going to do the job. I'd be shocked if the DWP water cops were on the streets before mid-August. So really, it's up to us. We have to stop, now. No more washing your cars at home. No more sprinklers. Let your driveways gather dirt.

Somehow, though, I don't think we have the will or the courage. Like we did with oil, we just assume that water will be cheap forever. Then, when the prices go up, we'll moan and wring our hands at the tragedy of it all. But we must conserve, and we must educate our neighbors.

As soon as I find out who's behind the mystery river of Franklin Avenue, I'm going to do what every Angeleno would:

Complain to myself silently, go home and take a nice, long shower.

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