Los Angeles can and should do more to wean itself off of costly imported water, environmental advocates told scores of people who packed a Panorama City forum Saturday.
"It's not sustainable for us to continue relying on 89% of our local water supply coming from more than 200 miles away," said Mark Gold, acting director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.
Only 11% of water used in Los Angeles is local, compared to 70% in nearby Santa Monica, Gold said. Shipping water to L.A. consumes more energy and ramps up greenhouse gas emissions.
"The biggest single use of electrical energy in the state is pumping water over the Tehachapis to Southern California," said Conner Everts, executive director of the Southern California Watershed Alliance.
Gold said Los Angeles is lagging when it comes to water recycling and recapturing its stormwater, two strategies that could help reduce the need for imported water. It needs to upgrade its aging network of pipes to prevent water losses from leaks and breaks.
The city also needs to find the money -- possibly aided by a state water bond now being debated in Sacramento -- to ensure the San Fernando Basin can continue to provide clean groundwater as a toxic plume threatens its wells, advocates say.
"The Valley is where our water future lies," said Melanie Winter, director of The River Project.
Winter added residents could do their part by reusing water from their showers and washing machines to water plants, remaking their yards so that water is funneled into groundwater instead of the gutter, replacing thirsty lawns with native plants and using permeable paving.
"What we need to be doing, especially in the Valley, is poking holes in the hardscape everywhere we possibly can," Winter said.
A pilot program fostering such changes at 22 homes in Panorama City conserved and reused 1.2 million gallons of potable water annually, and collectively reduced water bills by about $7,300 per year, Winter said. She urged attendees to support the L.A. Department of Water and Power if it seeks to increase water rates, saying a boost could be tailored "so that it hits people who are wasting water."
"Manage it responsibly, and if the rates go up, your pocketbook will not suffer," she said.
As it stands, Angelenos use roughly 130 gallons of water per person daily -- less than residents of other major U.S. cities, but still vastly more than consumers in Australia and much of Europe, Gold said.
The forum about the future of water in Los Angeles, held at the Kaiser Permanente complex in Panorama City, was hosted by Food & Water Watch, Sierra Club Angeles Chapter and the River Project.