Posts tagged water conservation


Image: prepared by Gary Lai for his presentation at the Net Zero Conference.

Water conservation is an ongoing topic of discussion and exploration here at AHBE. From simple water-saving tips to broader statewide drought-related issues, our staff and AHBE Lab contributors have advocated for smart water habits and policies.

Net Zero Water is the next step for water conservation supporters and serves as a concept and framework for water self-sufficiency. Simply put, Net Zero Water practices could help us achieve independence from the water grid and get all the water we use from nature and treated greywater.

In Southern California, achieving Net Zero Water is very difficult unless you have a huge parcel of land with a tiny house. A building-by-building solution is impractical. A household would have to implement the equivalent of a wastewater treatment plant in its garage, which is not economical for most people. Water independence through Net Zero Water strategies is possible for Californians if we think about them in terms of a collective achievement at the neighborhood, city, or county level.

I have become fascinated with the thousands of man-made lakes we built in our state in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Although they are lovely private and public amenities, these lakes were being supplied by millions of gallons of expensive imported water from the Owens Valley and Northern Sierra Nevada. At one point, the make-up water from private man-made lakes ranked number one for water usage in our state. Consider the impact on our water supply if the lakes were taken off the grid and used instead to supply treated drinking water to a whole community or eco-district.

Graphic by Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Works for Magic Johnson Park Phase 1A project.

I am currently working on a project in the South Los Angeles area. The project calls for improvements to an existing park called Earvin “Magic” Johnson Park which serves LA’s Willowbrook community. Among the new and improved park amenities, we are taking the 8-acre south lake off its current domestic water source and replacing it with treated recycled stormwater. We will then use the lake water to irrigate the remaining 120 acres of the park. Consider the following:  how much more effort would it really take for the next step toward Net Zero Water at an eco-district scale? The recycled irrigation water we are generating is almost at drinking water quality now. What if we treat the lake water for drinking quality and use it to supply the neighborhood?

California’s population is projected to grow to 50-60 million by 2050 and, according to the most recent climate models coming out of Lawrence Livermore Labs, the state will have 10-15% less water. We must explore options that will allow us to live, grow, and prosper with these challenges.

If you are interested in learning more about Net Zero Water, please join me at the 2018 Net Zero Conference on September 13. I have more to share on this subject and I look forward to meeting you at the conference.

Rendering by AHBE Landscape Architects for Magic Johnson Park Phase 1A project.






Silver Lake Reservoir photo by Michael Kansas Sebastian/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Silver Lake Reservoir in happier full capacity times. Photo by Michael Kansas Sebastian/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Recycled Water, Groundwater to Refill Silver Lake Reservoir: A recent AHBE Lab post about the future of the Silver Lake Reservoir pondered where the water to refill and maintain the Reservoir would come from. Now we know: “Recycled wastewater and groundwater will most likely be used to refill Silver Lake Reservoir by this time next year, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power officials told a community meeting Thursday night.”

Rising Tides: Designing Resilient Amenities for Coastal Cities: “Some developers are making the strategic decision to not purchase on waterfronts or in flood zones, and yet other projects close to water are choosing to demonstrate innovation and lead the way because people love being near the water. Water is a magnet.”

California is backsliding on water conservation. L.A. can’t and won’t follow suit: “…the state’s conservation efforts are already backsliding. Urban water savings dropped significantly in July from last year’s mandatory program. Here in the Southland, the most glaring example of this new freedom to waste comes from Malibu-Topanga area residents, who use an average of 254 gallons of water per day — more than 8% higher than a year ago and more than five times higher than residents in Huntington Park, Paramount and East LA.”

More Developers Kick Parking Lots to the Curb: Bad news for car owners: “Developers in more U.S. cities are reducing the amount of parking spaces included in new projects as local authorities seek to encourage the use of mass transit and free up space for parks, housing or other uses.”

A Glorified Sidewalk, and the Path to Transform Atlanta: “Could this traffic-clogged Southern city, long derided as the epitome of suburban sprawl, really be discovering its walkable, bike-friendly, density-embracing, streetcar-riding, human-scale soul?”

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Using Floating Ecosystems to Clean Waterways: Biomatrix Water use nature’s systems to create floating ecosystems that clean up waterways and create biodiverse and vibrant river environments.

Gov. Brown orders permanent California water conservation due to drought: “Californians stepped up during this drought and saved more water than ever before,” said Brown in a statement. “But now we know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life.”

Pioneering Asian-American Architects in Los Angeles: “The focus piece is about Asian-Angeleno architects: David Hyun, Eugene Choy, Gilbert Leong, Gin Wong, and Helen Fong, five Asian-American architects who lived in Los Angeles and in a very basic sense contributed to the city’s built environment through their architectural designs. They also paved the way for organizations like the Asian American Architects and Engineers Association and contemporary Asian-Angeleno architects…”

BlacklistLA: “They gather after dark and experience downtown Los Angeles en masse. They are hundreds of joggers who sweep through the center of the city, stop to appreciate L.A. murals, and cross the finish line with a sense of community. Reporter Dija Dowling joined the group called “BlacklistLA” and met Erik Valiente, the young organizer who’s own running habit started with a bet.”

The Benefits of Urban Trees:

Click image for full size image.

Click image for full size image.

If you haven’t noticed, this month at AHBE Lab has been dedicated to water conservation and sustainability – ranging from posts about city and state infrastructure, to those revolving around personal household habits, to offering “how-to” instructions for saving and reusing water. We even brought a little levity to what is a pretty serious challenge. I thought I’d chime in with a diagram illustrating how collecting and using water at home can be utilized for creating a sustainable ecosystem at the residential level.

There are essentially 2 parts to the water collection system shown above: 1. the exterior rain water collection and, 2. the interior grey water system (kitchen, bathroom and laundry). Both systems can be as extensive (adding a new grey water piping system) or as simple (bucketing out clean shower water) as you want to make it. Three steps are required for both interior and exterior systems:

  • Monitoring current water use
  • Developing the infrastructure to use water efficiently
  • Create and implement these new integrated systems into daily habits
Designers everywhere are looking to add water sustainability features into communities, including grey water systems, like this one for Eco Village.

Designers everywhere are looking to add water sustainability features into communities, including grey water systems, like this one for Eco Village.

Our plans above recommend integrating exterior features like permeable paving, rain barrels, and irrigation to maximize water use when availability is limited while also aiding in replenishing local aquifers. Inside, our proposed home is equipped with a grey water system, partnered with biodegradable laundry detergents and soaps which won’t harm soil, alongside buckets strategically placed to capture water at drains and sinks to be reused for gardening or landscaping purposes.

Though these propositions may seem difficult to implement, they do have recent precedent. Other countries like Australia and Israel have already integrated these solutions on a city, state, and country wide basis. There is research being done about the Los Angeles River and urban drainage which may help us use the water normally washed away into the ocean. No matter how small or large, bringing these different ideas to the table can help alleviate many of the water related issues we’re facing as a city and as a state.

Photo: The cracked and parched Lake Hume reservoir bed in Victoria.

Photo: The cracked and parched Lake Hume reservoir bed in Victoria.

Like California, Australia has experienced long periods of drought over the centuries. Australia’s most recent drought was labeled the Millennia Drought, beginning back in 1995 and lasting until 2012, drastically impacting the entire country’s infrastructure and lifestyle.

“It is clear that Australians use less water than Californians, with a similar climate, economy, and culture. If California had the same residential water use rates as Australia, it could have reduced gross urban water use by 2.1 million acre-feet.” – U.C. Davis Comparison of Residential Water Usage between California and Australia

In response to the severity of its long-lasting drought, Australia implemented serious reform at the state government level. For instance, regulators use satellite imagery to identify and impose fines for green lawns. Public government reports are used to reveal household water use, while shaming water-wasting individuals is considered an effective tool for reducing daily water consumption. A cap and trade system allows water and land owners to buy and sell shares of their water allotment. With signs of another drought affecting parts of Victoria and South Australia, the country is better equipped to conserve and manage their precious resource because these strict measures are already enacted.

Although Australia’s response to the latest drought may be considered radical measures by some Californians, it is clear the country has succeeded in significantly reducing their water usage, allowing the population to survive one of the worst droughts in history.

So what is keeping California from adopting similar measures?

Well, for one thing, there’s a reason why our drought is often referred to as an “invisible” problem. Culturally and subconsciously, some Californians have a hard time giving up or cutting back personal freedoms of water usage. And despite our individual efforts to save water, maybe we need radical reform to make the problem visible and the solutions more unified at the state and federal levels. California is not the only state in a drought, and it’s best for all citizens to recognize resources like water are not infinite, whether stricter measures are or not enforced.