Drought and Water Policy

Drought, the “New Normal" and LA’s Water Future
As we know all too well, Southern California has been in a serious drought for nearly a decade. If we are to be responsible about the future, we need to stop referring to it as a “drought." We are in a “new normal." A several decade’s-long climate warming trend in the high Sierras has made it difficult to store our water as snowpack into the summer months like we used to. This means that, moving forward, Southern California will be short on water, and both Councilmember Koretz and the City of Los Angeles are working hard to adapt. Being unprepared for a new water future is not an option in a region of nearly twenty-three million people.

Locked water faucet

"As a lifelong environmentalist, I am willing to meet the challenges of California’s drought crisis head-on, and in a responsible manner. As a Jew, I’m very much inspired by the tradition of tikkun olam, which, translated into English, calls on us to “repair the world." Given the environmental damage that has been done to Earth, in particular by climate change, repair is much needed."

Councilmember Koretz authored an article in the Jewish Journal outlining his plan to address this new normal.

Please click here to read the rest of the article. More details on his water plan follow below.





Several months ago, the Center for Investigative Reporting listed the top 10 known residential water customers in California. Councilmember Koretz, who, as a member of the City Council’s Energy & Environment Committee and as one of the Mayor’s appointees to the Metropolitan Water Board for two years, has spent countless hours working to address this new low-water future, was horrified to find that five of the top water users in California actually live in his very own Council District 5. Four of the top five live in Bel Air and one lives in Westwood. The single biggest water user in the state, a Bel-Air resident, used about 1 million gallons of water per month (enough for 90 average households). Councilmember Koretz introduced a motion calling on the LA Department of Water & Power to find immediate ways to address and stop the water abuse, including “severe financial penalties."

As quoted in the related LA Times story, Councilmember Koretz decided to take “responsibility for the extravagant and embarrassing use of water in my district. It’s a slippery slope to move toward a time where water is only for those who can most afford it."

“I don’t care what else you do in these mansions, but when hard-working Angelenos from all walks of life are ripping out their lawns, putting buckets in their showers with them in order to water their plants and flushing their toilets only once a day, it’s not only unfair, it’s ridiculous."

Now, only a few months later, Councilmember Koretz is extremely pleased. Thanks to the combined efforts of the CD5 staff working with the DWP water system staff, the excessive water abuse is way down. Many of the water abusers were simply unaware of the amount of water they were using and have stepped up their efforts to curtail their use. For those who haven’t cut their use, DWP will soon be coming out with their new regulations.


Metropolitan Water District Board Meeting

Councilmember Koretz was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Water District board by Mayor Eric Garcetti and served for two years, from 2014-2016, setting water policy for all of Southern California during our historic drought. His accomplishments there include: brokering the deal for the board to increase turf removal funding to $350 million, negotiating $20 million to begin the clean-up of the San Fernando Valley aquifer, protecting the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act from misguided federal legislation, and leading the MWD to alter its imported water business model to include local recycled water projects.

The turf removal rebate program gave customers $2 extra per square foot of grass converted to climate-adapted plants and high-efficiency irrigation devices [in addition to the LA Department of Water and Power (LADWP) rebate of $1.75]. It was so successful that the rebate sold out within several months. What’s great is that the amount of water it has saved the City is ongoing since those lawns and high-water using landscapes are gone for good.


Turf Removal Rebate

But those landscapes could be getting additional benefits at no additional cost. The Councilmember wants L.A. to be an example of these more beneficial landscapes. Using the LADWP turf removal rebate of $1.75 per square, the Councilmember introduced this motion calling for a “watershed approach.” The motion requires:

  • Directing rainwater to landscaping
  • Creating healthy, living soil, using compost and plant-based mulch
  • Using climate-adapted plants, ideally native
  • When necessary, use supplemental irrigation from greywater, your hose or a high-efficiency irrigation system

Fig.above - Councilmember Koretz assists as Beverlywood resident, Jenny Savitsky, tears out her lawn in favor of drought tolerant landscaping. He is proud to support the efforts by the Beverlywood Homes Association Board to update its landscaping standards, educate its 1,320 member-homes about the rebates and environmental benefits of water-wasting lawn removal, and in its removal of lawn from its common area parkways.

It is the microbiology in living soil that filters pollution, helps to create space for water to be held in soil, and locks up carbon from the carbon dioxide absorbed by plants. Water held in soil keeps microbiology thriving and acts like a bank account that plants can tap during dry months.

Think of each property as a miniature watershed, where water flows from a high point (like a roof) to a low point (like your landscape). In between you can slow, spread and soak up rainwater. Spreading out water can be accomplished using different shapes and styles: from a dry creek bed to a shallow, large basin.

This holistic method ties together the City’s multiple efforts on energy, water supply, water quality, and green waste reduction. It frames it within the context of an expected warming climate. The motion lays a path for LADWP and LA Department of Sanitation to work together under the One Water plan they have developed for the City. LA Sanitation’s motto is “Capture, Conserve, Reuse,” and this motion pushes forward that necessary goal.

Councilmember Koretz has also worked to have the MWD Board allocate $20 million to start the cleanup of the San Fernando Valley Aquifer, which, when clean, can provide water for up to 800,000 families. Over the past few years, he has worked with the Mayor and City Council to fund the creation of a larger water cleanup plan for the site.

A City delegation has been working at the State Capitol in Sacramento to obtain Proposition 1 Water Bond funding for the clean-up. As you can see from this motion, as Chair of the City Council’s Personnel Committee, he has been instrumental in successfully implementing and funding the personnel to work on these projects.

A number of folks have asked why the City doesn’t just build a large desalination plant like San Diego and take our water from the ocean. So-called “desal" plants aren’t quite as simple an answer as they seem. They are currently extremely expensive, extremely energy intensive, and environmentally problematic. The San Diego Water Authority has spent a billion dollars to build its desal plant and will only be producing 50 million gallons of water per day. The Los Angeles Hyperion Water Treatment Plant, for comparison, on a dry day treats and cleans to near-drinking water standards 270 million gallons of wastewater. Prompted in part by Councilmember Koretz’s “Utilizing Recycled Water from Hyperion Treatment Plant" motion, the City of Los Angeles is currently looking at ways to use that water in the most beneficial way possible.

Hyperion Desalination Plant

One option existing option is to connect Hyperion to the MWD’s proposed recycled water system pilot project, which could, when finished, be one of the largest recycled water programs in the world. Before he left the MWD Board, Councilmember Koretz helped move forward MWD’s pilot proposal, which would, in essence, alter MWD’s seventy-five year-old business model of importing water from Northern California and the Colorado River toward a focus on building local water supplies, beginning with this recycled water demonstration project.

The demonstration project, launching at the LA County Sanitation District's Joint Water Pollution Control Plant in Carson, would cost about $15 million and would enable MWD to perfect treatment processes on a million gallons per day while MWD figures out a financing model. One option includes having the treated water pumped into the Central Basin aquifer where it would filter naturally into the groundwater basin before being pumped out, treated again and used as drinking water.

In a “new normal" water world, Councilmember Koretz is supporting innovative, inexpensive and environmentally-friendly thinking.

Councilmember Koretz is quite proud of one of the innovations he was able to quickly institute here in Los Angeles, simply by looking differently at how water is currently handled. There is a lot more groundwater in Los Angeles than one might believe, hidden streams that often are not found until someone digs into the earth to build a foundation of a building. The way the City had previously handled that water was to install pumps in the buildings which sent the water into our storm drains, which eventually ended up in the ocean. The Councilmember’s thought was, why don’t we look for ways to actually use this water onsite first, then, once those opportunities have been exhausted, instead of the storm drain, send the water into the sewer system, which ends up at our water treatment plant and can be recycled and repurposed from there. He introduced a motion toward that end, the City Council approved it unanimously, the Planning Department snapped it up and is moving forward with implementation. Here is the motion.

The water issue that could be a game-changer – effective stormwater capture – is finally moving forward. Councilmember Koretz is supporting the effort to find a solution sooner rather than later. In July 2015, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power presented its Stormwater Capture Master Plan, which will reduce the City’s reliance on expensive imported water and make use of our expected heavier rainfalls due to climate change. The plan includes three large projects in the San Fernando Valley which would use basins to collect rainfall and filter it into the San Fernando Valley aquifer for storage. The plan also includes smaller projects throughout the City, including permeable concreate, pocket parks and “green streets." Incentives will be used to encourage homeowners, schools and businesses to install large cisterns, rain gardens and vegetated swales to clean and direct stormwater toward capture or irrigation uses. TreePeople’s Andy Lipkis explains the situation in his blog, emphasizing that, “According to LA Department of Water and Power’s recent Stormwater Capture Master Plan, our average capture-able rain water is enough to meet upwards of 45% of our city’s annual need."


Save the Drop Logo

For more information about water use and conservation tactics in Los Angeles, please visit the official sites:

For available water conservation and energy efficiency rebates, please visit DWP’s website.

For further water conservation rebates, please visit MWD’s Smartwater website.