Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

City Water Sustainability Delayed 3 Years After A Decade of Non Stop Construction

It is hard to believe that sucking groundwater has no effect on the environment

It may come as a disappointment to city cheerleaders and cause an eye-roll to the rest of us that the city has announced their plan to become "self-sufficient" in water use has been delayed by three years.

Back in 2011, the Santa Monica City Council - largely the same people it is today, seven years later - set a goal of reaching water self-sufficiency by 2020. One can only speculate that their idea was it was somehow more environmentally friendly and also cost-efficient to use local well water rather than pay to import water from the Metropolitan Water District. City staff also claim using well water will make the city more resistant to the effects of drought.

We have yet to see proof that using well water is any more environmentally friendly than importing it from the Colorado River, the main source of the MWD. It is hard to believe that sucking groundwater has no effect on the environment. It also strains our credulity to believe that a drought would have no effect on the supply of local groundwater. Where does that water come from, after all? Ultimately, rainfall.

The real difference between using MWD water and city-owned well water during a drought is who profits from the rate increases. In the latter case, the city does not have to share their windfall with an outside water agency.

In any case, the dubious benefit of water self-sufficiency has been driven three years into the future, city staff say, because of the difficult of obtaining permits and changes to state law.

Imagine that! Our city is having to deal with the red tape, delay, and the extortionist tactics of a government agency from whom they need to obtain permits. Karma's a bitch. (Anyone who has done any construction - or even gotten a new dishwasher - in Santa Monica understands what I'm talking about.)

The State of California has also instituted higher standards for drinking water, requiring the removal of certain chemicals. According to the SMDP, Alex Nazarchuk, Santa Monica City's Water Resources Manager, says this makes the treatment of well water more difficult and expensive.

Of course, the city received a $330 million dollar settlement from oil companies who'd polluted our groundwater. The money was supposed to be used to clean up our water - and some of it has been used for that purpose. Some of it, however - $57 million dollars, to be exact - was diverted to build a City Yard project and a new City Services Building. But the city council counts on its residents to forget about that - it was back in January, after all - and agree to accept delay and rate increases to clean up our groundwater.

City staff brag that they reduced total water usage by 20 percent between 2011-2017. It's not much to brag about, however, as this was achieved by raising rates, enforcing strict water-usage laws, and encouraging residents to take out environmentally important, oxygen-producing plants. Though the idea was that drought-tolerant plants would replace water-hungry lawns, most landscaping has been replaced with gravel, concrete, or plastic lawns. None of these assist in reducing carbon dioxide or allowing groundwater to form. In some cases, the changes have killed trees, which rely on the grass to help them access water.

City staff are utterly silent on the issue of increased development in the city. Large projects are springing up on every street, multi-story buildings that are going to use much more water than the buildings (in many cases, parking lots), they are replacing. No matter how much more 'water-efficient' these buildings supposedly are, they will constitute huge new demand for water.

Whether the residents of Santa Monica end up using MWD water from Colorado or local well water, they will be asked to pay higher rates and conserve more water as new development drinks up what used to be theirs.


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