LOS ANGELES The cost of the damage caused by the heavy rains that ravaged California is estimated to reach one billion dollars. The rains that started on Boxing Day lasted almost continuously until the middle of January. They caused floods, power outages, more than 500 mudslides and claimed the lives of at least 22 people.
Southern California and Los Angeles fared better than the northern and central parts of the state, but fallen trees damaged buildings and cars. People caught in the floodwater also had to be rescued. Middle of the road in Chatsworth to the created sinkhole (you switch to another service) two cars with passengers fell.
In addition to chaos, the rains brought relief to the drought-stricken state, but only a fraction of the rainwater was recovered. A total of 123 billion cubic meters (32.6 trillion gallons) of water came. In the San Francisco Delta, 95 percent of the water ended up in the ocean, even though it is the most significant watershed in California.
Executive Director of the Los Angeles Waterkeeper benefit organization Bruce Reznik says that with a more efficient recovery system, it would be possible to make better use of local water resources.
– About 20 percent of the water was collected in Los Angeles, but in some surrounding areas much more. Normal rains bring five to ten billion gallons of water here, now it was many times more, says Bruce Reznik to in Los Angeles.
LA Waterkeeper advocates for the right to clean drinking water, rivers and coastal waters. The organization also lobbies for sustainable water consumption and the creation of water resources.
Riverbeds and pavements covered with concrete
In addition to repairing the damage, rainwater harvesting is a hot topic in the discussion raised by heavy rains. Residents are frustrated with the situation, especially since millions have been required to reduce water consumption due to years of drought.
– This is the first time in 20 years that the topic of discussion and concern is not the discharge of pollution and garbage into the sea with the rain, but the harvesting of rainwater, says Reznik, who has been a water activist for twenty years.
The problem has its roots in infrastructure designed a hundred years ago, which harnessed natural rivers to transport rainwater directly to the sea. Los Angeles at the time was more concerned about saving lives and minimizing property damage than the drought.
– Has any city in the world managed to get rid of such a valuable resource as water as efficiently as Los Angeles, Reznik thinks.
He says that dozens of people died in floods in the 1920s and 1930s, and natural rivers were harnessed to carry rainwater directly to the sea as soon as possible.
– When Los Angeles started growing as a city about a hundred years ago, the decision-makers did everything they could to destroy the paradise by covering it under concrete, including the rivers and streams. It has accelerated the depletion of our water resources.
Reznik says tampering with natural rivers was a mistake. Due to short-sighted urban planning, groundwater resources are running out, and the parched land cannot absorb the water brought by heavy rains. The result is floods, landslides, fallen trees and human sacrifices, i.e. everything that the decision-makers of the past tried to avoid.
– Ballona Creek is one sad example of this. Both the bottom of the river and the small banks are lined with concrete. It made no sense then, even less in this age of climate change.
– We bring 60 percent of our water from elsewhere for the needs of 10 million people. It is as much as the treated waste water released into the sea by water treatment plants and the total amount of precipitation that flows into the sea during the year, Reznik points out.
Recycling also saves energy. About 20 percent of the energy produced is spent on moving, treating and using water.
If the bottoms of the rivers were in a natural state, the water absorbed through them would increase the groundwater reserve.
– The current system has led to a war with Mother Nature. The goal is to return the rivers to their natural state and collect rainwater.
We can no longer afford to waste time
Improvements to the system have already been taken. Vice president Terrible Harris visited Los Angeles last Friday to tour the Tujunga Spreading Grounds watershed in the San Fernando Valley. There are large groundwater reservoirs just below the renovated area.
Rainwater has been collected in the valley for 80 years, but on a smaller scale than today. The plan includes harnessing more than 20 catchment areas in the Los Angeles area to efficiently collect rainwater.
– We are going in the right direction, because from an environmental point of view, local collection of rainwater is the best solution. The decision-makers are finally realizing the seriousness of the situation, including Kamala Harris. Residents can also do their part, reminds Reznik.
Sacramento, San Diego and the City of Los Angeles encourage households (you switch to another service) to collect rainwater, and the city’s water districts reimburse the price of the barrels.
Gardener Debby Dunn guides the townspeople in rainwater harvesting. Dunn, who completed the master gardener program in the University of California system, assures that reclamation pays off.
– During this period of heavy rain, more than 15,000 liters of water could have been collected if the roof area is 185 square meters, says Dunn.
It would be enough to water the garden for a long time and save on the water bill. Despite the good intentions, saving is not that simple. In all houses in the Los Angeles area there are no rain gutters (you switch to another service) or the gutters extend so low to the ground that even a smaller container cannot fit under them. The only option is to put buckets in the yard.
– Despite the recent rains, the drought is not over for a long time. Because of climate change, we have to use water sparingly. Utilizing rainwater in the garden helps a lot, says Dunn.
The authorities have said (you will switch to another service), that it takes 30–50 years to build a modern rainwater harvesting and storage system. Reznik estimates that the costs will rise to 20 billion dollars. He believes that at that price, a comprehensive and sustainable water saving, collection and consumption system can be obtained for the Los Angeles area.
– We are trying to influence the schedule so that the system is ready within 20 years. We cannot afford to wait any longer, Reznik emphasizes.
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