Perspective #1 – “Fear”: Climatologists are forecasting a strong El Niño year. It’s everywhere in the news, and whenever there is a climate anomaly these days we all say, “it must be the El Niño” effect. Recently, I’ve been in client meetings when I’ve heard the words, “it’s an El Niño year”. I see concern and fear on everyone’s face. I think this has to do with the cost of construction delays. The washing out of Interstate 5 a month ago only exacerbates this concern. People are wondering, “What am I supposed to do when the storm hits and it washes out my planting beds?” I smile and hold my tongue, all the while thinking to myself, “I guess you’ll need to replant it”.
Perspective #2 – “I am not responsible”: I feel a sense of misguided relief amongst some Angelenos who mistakenly believe the predicted rainfall will solve our statewide drought (or at least will eliminate the possibility of additional draconian water restriction ordered by the governor or local leadership). I also get the sense from talking to everyday people that this rainy year will relieve them of having to continue their water restriction in their homes. I can hear people saying, “Maybe I don’t have to feel guilty about having a green lawn or I won’t need to recycle my bath water, or maybe now I can wash my car in the driveway again”.
Perspective #3 – “Lessons of a Sustainable World”: California’s drought is a great lesson on sustainability. Personally, it has forced me to shift my day-to-day lifestyle in ways that I was not accustomed to prior. Initially I complained under my breath, but I realize now it’s been a rewarding and insightful experience. I thought I lived sustainably before the drought (e.g. I tend a drought-tolerant garden, drive a Prius, recycle everything possible, etc.), but this extended dry period has made me reflect on how unsustainable I truly am.
Living in Los Angeles and in our post-industrial infrastructure certainly doesn’t make it any easier. Who likes driving on the freeway or having to drive to a local store in traffic to get eggs? So on a personal level I found the drought a great teacher. As an urban designer the drought has reframed and opened the possibility to rethink how we should be designing of our cities. What were once novel ideas about urban green infrastructure before the drought, I now believe should now be required.
For example, I believe that all of our residential, commercial, and institutional storm water run-off should be required to stored, reuse, and recycled their water. This water can obviously be used for landscapes, but it should be used for other functions such as toilets. Why not? The State Water Board has mandated that we clean our storm water before it leaves a site, but I don’t’ think it goes far enough. I’ve read that 25% of Israel’s water comes from recycled and treated sewer water. That’s not bad as a start. I believe there is plenty of policy room in Los Angeles to be much more sustainable.
So let’s not use the “it’s an El Niño year” as an excuse for falling back onto our old ways. Let’s use El Niño to be the catalyst for a better and more sustainable city and world.