|Drawing (on) Water in Los Angeles (excerpt) | Jenny Price, Jane Tsong, Ellen Sollod, Lize Mogel, DJ Waldie, Paul S. Kibel|
Jenny Price: The diagram makes me think about what larger-scale and smaller-scale versions would look like. Larger-scale versions might connect, for example, to Fiji and Switzerland, as sources of bottled water. But smaller-scale versions might show how the water cycle differs for different Angelenos. We don't all drink the same water in LA. Not even close. Take the tap water, for example. Some neighborhoods drink more Owens River water, some more groundwater, some more from the Colorado River. In her new book "Left In the Dust" about LA and the Owens Valley, Karen Piper tells us that the Department of Water and Power mixes Owens River water with polluted groundwater, to the point that the EPA still deems drinkable. The closer you live to the aqueduct, the higher the concentration of Owens River water. So the Valley and the Westside drink water with almost no pollutants, and Central and East and South LA...well, you might want to ask for bottled water at your favorite downtown taqueria....
Jane Tsong: Years ago, plates were installed by all the storm drains throughout the city with a picture of a fish skeleton, and the words "No dumping: this drains to ocean". This is a phenomenal and eye opening image. Without such reminders, one might find it unbelievable that your storm drain runs DIRECTLY to the ocean when you are more than an hour's drive away.
Now what if such plates were required to label all sources of tap water? Your water faucet might say, "from 60% from Owens Valley, 15% from Colorado River, 10% from wells in the San Fernando Valley....", and the one on the toilet might say "drains to the ocean-- wastewater treatment breaks down biodegradable substances only"? What if on each water bottle we purchased, there would be...a real photograph of the actual place the water comes from was required to be shown on the front (instead of a mythical mountain stream), just the way "Nutrition Facts" are now mandated to appear on labels?
Lize Mogel: The no-dumping logo always makes me think of the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant (in Los Angeles), which pumps secondary effluent (treated sewage which is considered "cleaned") out into Santa Monica Bay, 5 miles off the shore. Worth noting that the Hyperion plant dumped tons of sewage sludge into the Bay for 30 years until the 1980s, resulting in huge environmental problems. There are always plenty of people swimming at the beach directly in front of the Hyperion plant-- not that the treated effluent necessarily rolls back in to that very spot (the LA City website optimistically states that "the water does not return to shore"), but it points to a disconnect between the physical manifestations of the water system and its social meaning.
Shit is always entering the water system, in one form or another. It's a question of how we collectively understand and accept the real meaning of "tap water" or "fresh water"-- and how that understanding might change the actions/habits of people, industry, etcetera.
DJ Waldie: Just three little words - "toilet to tap" - in a Daily News headline in April 2000 doomed the Department of Water and Power's goal to do many things with the city's reclaimed water, all designed to stretch local drinking water supplies while retaining, without a draconian conservation regime, the city's illusion of a lush oasis.
"Toilet to tap" in 2000 meant spreading as much as 35,000 acre-feet of highly processed reclaimed water on percolation fields in the Valley. From there, it would migrate, over time, into aquifers 500 or more feet below, mingle with unprocessed water that collects from the hillside watershed. The water would flow through layers of Pleistocene sand, gravel, and silt until, about five years later, the blended water (97% from nature, 3% reclaimed) would appear in city-owned wells to be drawn into the domestic water system where, after a lot of routine testing and chlorination, it would flow from the kitchen taps and hose bibs of Los Angeles households.
It's not enough to know that all water is reused water and that it has passed through a lot of lives in the past 3.5 billion years. Or that the Valley's own watershed, like all the outdoors, is a vast latrine for every thing that doesn't live in a house, and all of nature's effluent, untreated and unregulated, makes some passage into the Valley aquifers.
Not is enough to know that much of the water Los Angeles gets from the Colorado River has previously seen the inside of the septic tanks and sewage systems of upstream cities and arrives here in a condition not much different from the tertiary treated waste water produced by the Tillman Water Reclamation plant [in the San Fernando Valley]...reclaimed water is crucial to maintenance of the region's precarious fresh water balance.