May 7, 2017 - From the May, 2017 issue

'One Water LA' Update: Region's Progress On Building A Resilient Water Supply

When Mayor Garcetti announced his ambitious plans to reduce the city of Los Angeles’ purchase of imported water by 50 percent by 2024, skeptics were unsure the region was up to the challenge. Even faced with a historic drought, it would take a prodigious effort to dramatically change water management in a single decade. Enter One Water LA, an integrated approach to water supply, wastewater treatment, and stormwater management championed by Los Angeles’ most expert water leadership. Now, three years into the One Water LA planning process, The Planning Report sits down with Martin Adams (LADWP), Adel Hagekhalil (LA Sanitation), Adam Krantz (NACWA), and Jack Baylis (The Baylis Group) to discuss the status of the One Water LA Plan and this summer's VerdeXchange-sponsored Water Charrette.


Martin Adams

"Our goal as a city is to supply 25% of our water locally by 2025. That means we have to essentially double the output from our local groundwater sources." -Martin Adams, LADWP

"Our San Fernando Valley reclamation plant that we have been collaborating on to recharge the groundwater is an example of our work. I believe that this is the One Water moment in Los Angeles." - Adel Hagekhalil, LA Sanitation

Adel, as former NACWA Board President and Assistant Director of the LA City Bureau of Sanitation, you champion the One Water initiative. Bring our readers up to date on the state of the initiative and the 2040 Plan.

Adel Hagekhalil: One Water LA is bringing all of Los Angeles together to think about water holistically. One Water LA connects dots, drops and hearts. By bringing the drinking water, stormwater, recycled water, and wastewater leaders together, we are building a sustainable water future for LA while leveraging our resources and improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods. In LA, we are leading the way in managing water and fundamentally changing our relationship with water.

The One Water LA 2040 Plan is an integrated approach to water supply, wastewater treatment, and stormwater management. The new plan builds upon the success of the City of Los Angeles' Water Integrated Resource Plan, and sets the bar for a more sustainable and resilient way to manage the city’s future water needs. The goal of the plan is to make the city more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

The One Water LA Plan is a step toward meeting the mayor's executive directive to meet 50 percent of LA’s water demand with local sources by 2035. We will continue water conservation, and increase water reuse and stormwater capture and reuse.

At LA Sanitation, we are working together with our partners at the LA Department of Water and Power and our sister agencies and stakeholders on transforming LA's water future. We are finalizing the One Water LA Report, and it should be out in July. Examples of our One Water efforts are:

  • Building a new sewer from the East Valley to the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant, away from Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant, to increase the recycled water supply and meet the demand for ground water recharge. That is in combination with upgrading our treatment to a state-of-the-art advanced water purification process.
  • Working with LA County Public Works on a joint project in Sun Valley, the Rory M. Shaw Wetlands Park, where a 50-acre gravel pit is being converted to a "one water" complex. Runoff from 1,000 acres will be captured and treated through a series of wetlands, then recharged into our groundwater aquifer. This project will enhance water quality in the LA River, mitigate flooding, and replenish the ground water while providing open space.
  • On the Westside, we have a large demand for recycled water around UCLA and Rancho Park. But that area is far from our water reclamation plants. To meet the demand, and “connect the dots and drops,” we are looking at a satellite plant to capture and treat stormwater and wastewater flows, so recycled water can be used for irrigation and commercial/industrial use.

Marty, contextualize LADWP’s role in the One Water LA team. 

Martin Adams: As the city's water provider, we have been challenged to reduce our dependence on imported water from hundreds of miles away. Those supplies are increasingly expensive, both monetarily and environmentally, and as we just saw, are vulnerable to drought and climate change.

In addition to decades of successful and increasing conservation, LADWP has been partnering with LA Sanitation to produce treated wastewater that is then delivered to our water customers for irrigation and industrial purposes, further reducing the need for imported water.

But the next step is to utilize highly rated recycled water and additional storm water to augment our drinking water supply, making the water we use in our homes and businesses truly more "local."

The One Water approach to water management is a collaborative effort to make sure that the city's water and wastewater/stormwater utilities act to not only fulfill their own missions, but to do it in a strategic way to best meet the overall needs of the city in all areas of water management. It engages all other city agencies as well, so that opportunities to capture, clean, recharge, reuse, and control water are not missed.

Adam, talk about the common problem of aligning regional water goals throughout the country. What other jurisdictions are taking on challenges like LA's? What does the new administration in Washington mean for infrastructure?

Adam Krantz: The need to address water holistically is a major challenge throughout the country. Every city is dealing with either too little or too much water; there are no cities that have exactly the right amount of water. Every city is beginning to think in the frame of mind that Adel spoke to—the One Water concept.

Keeping in mind that we are 40-50 years out from our original, seminal environmental regulations and legislation, what we are seeing now is a level of sophistication at the utility level that is unmatched in our history. In LA, Marty and Adel are actively breaking down silos to better address these challenges.

The other player in this conversation is the ratepayer. The funding that pays for the implementation of all of the environmental regulations, such as the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act, comes from the pocketbook of our residents through the utilities. We are getting to the point where we need to realize the multiple benefits that come from smarter management of our precious natural resources. Otherwise, we are looking at a difficult time for our ratepayers.

More than ever, utility leaders are charged with finding the true cost of water, and multiple environmental benefits for the community. These leaders are becoming what NACWA calls “the utility of the future.” At VerdeXchange 2017, we saw LA’s leadership on full display with Adel, Marty, and the other LA water champions. Our national utility leaders are looking globally for the best technologies and approaches to water management issues, and these people are very interested at the ideas coming out of LA’s environment of a dry climate with limited water resources.

The dots are being connected. Adel, Jack, and I were at the Paris Climate Conference to highlight the importance of thinking about the best international approaches for water resiliency. Many of our utilities are in low-lying, coastal areas that are prone to flooding and at-risk from climate impacts. Many of our utilities are in drought zones where water supply is shrinking. We were in Paris to ensure that both our utilities and the water community were prioritized and in the center of conversations. This is an inflection point for the water sector as a whole, and we have an opportunity to shape the jobs and communities of the future too.

At the same time, we cannot solely rely on the ratepayer for funding all of these endeavors. I believe that this administration is serious about spending money on infrastructure, but we need it to be climate-smart, resilient infrastructure for wastewater treatment, recharge, and recycled water facilities. This is a fully bipartisan issue. NACWA recently joined with other water agencies and groups for Water Week on Capitol Hill, where more than 2,000 visits were made to different congressional and executive branch offices. I can guarantee that by the end of our week of visits, members and their staffs were tired of hearing how water infrastructure works and how it needed to be a key part of any infrastructure bill that comes forward.

Let me be clear, though: It needs to be new money, not merely tax incentives and leveraging other funds. When you talk about a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, you are talking about $100 billion per year. In some way, that needs to allow municipal governments to add money to that pot, so the pie can grow to do more innovative projects that can replace our aging infrastructure and prepare us for the future.  

Jack, as a former CA State Fish and Game Commission Chair and a member of former President Obama’s Infrastructure Advisory Council on water infrastructure, what are the opportunities and challenges with this new administration?

Jack Baylis: Looking at the state of California, water usage breaks down into three sectors: environment (including wildlife needs), agriculture, and human consumption. In California, the average usage of about 50 percent of the water is for the environment. That includes wetlands, rivers, streams, and water for wildlife. 40 percent is for agriculture. Urban usage is only 10 percent of our statewide water usage. However, a problem is that the environmental usage is largely in the North Coast,  agriculture demands are in the Central Valley, and the urban needs are primarily in the South Coast and San Francisco Bay Area.

At the National Infrastructure Advisory Council last year, I chaired the water sector study, and was able to turn to Adam and Adel and their colleagues across the US to provide baseline for that report. We did a comprehensive review of many of the municipalities around the country, and consolidated into one source.

Adel and Marty, let’s bring the conversation back to local issues. At the VerdeXchange Conference in January, LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl announced her intention to put some type of funding measure forward to fund stormwater infrastructure investments. This would be the infrastructure of the future. What are the opportunities and the needs here?

Adel Hagekhalil: Stormwater doesn’t know political boundaries. To meet our challenges, we need to work collaboratively in our watersheds. Stormwater and urban runoff are huge challenges, but also great opportunities. We have to comply with our stormwater permit and protect the quality of water going to our waterways. But also, that water is a valuable resource that we need to capture and harness. 

Every time it rains, that is 4 to 5 billion gallons of water that runs to the ocean. We have built a system that protects against flooding. How can we capture the water and use it as a resource?

In 2004, the residents and ratepayers of LA supported us by passing Proposition O, which provided $500 million of general obligation bonds for clean water projects. Since then, we have been developing and implementing projects with the county, such as in Sun Valley. We are working to clean up the San Fernando Aquifer and reuse that water.

Through green stormwater infrastructure that captures, treats, and recharges stormwater, we are improving water quality, increasing our local water supply, and provide green space that the public can enjoy. Water needs to be an integral part of all infrastructure decisions in the county—for highways, public transit, parks, energy investments, or new housing developments.

Martin Adams: The need for additional local funding for stormwater quality is tremendous. It is an important area that many people do not recognize as a huge liability and environmental risk. However, through proper funding, there exists a real opportunity to leverage this important local resource. Improved stormwater management not only protects against pollution from urban runoff, but also adds resources to capture even more rainwater to replenish our groundwater basins and contribute to increasing our locally generated drinking water supply.

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Our goal as a city is to supply 25 percent of our water locally by 2025. That means we have to essentially double the output from our local groundwater sources. To do this, LADWP is constructing the world's largest groundwater treatment complex to regain full use of the San Fernando Valley aquifer, which today is heavily impacted by industrial pollution.

However, to take that much water out of the basin, we have to also make sure we put that much water in. That is where the close partnership with LASAN becomes such a critical element: to generate local water, both through increased stormwater management and capture, as well as to replenish the aquifer with high quality recycled water as was mentioned.

The local water future is really two parts that must go hand in hand: the generation of drinking water supply coupled with the capture and creation of water every year to sustain our local basins. 

Adam, let’s turn to funding. NACWA's board recently gained George Hawkins from DC Water, who has previously worked on developing public-private partnerships. What are you learning at NACWA regarding how to fund these ambitious initiatives?

Adam Krantz: If you speak to folks in the administration or Congress right now, some are looking across infrastructure sectors for examples of funding mechanisms. There are unique aspects to each of the sectors, but right now there is major interest in public-private partnerships and the capacity for private firm incentives to inject private money into infrastructure projects.

Some areas have always been more attractive to the private sector. For instance, the transportation sector has been more popular than the water sector. The water sector has remained fairly static in terms of involving the private sector; 88 percent of drinking water utilities and 95 percent of wastewater utilities remain public. Those percentages have remained true over the last 20 years. The question is: How do you get private money on the table to partner with the public sector in a meaningful way?

We are hearing about consolidation efforts, where the private sector comes in at the smaller utility level and consolidates those that do not have a sufficient rate-base and cannot make investments on their own. If the private sector can help make those small utilities viable and proactive, then rural infrastructure can really be helped.

Certain areas that are ready for more investment are stormwater green infrastructure projects, water reuse, biosolids, and management of water reuse. Figuring out how to reuse many elements of the waste stream will make our water systems more cost-efficient. These also address nutrient issues and water quality issues that our cities are dealing with. These potential revenue streams include fertilizer businesses that can turn a profit. This would include a private firm taking on a portion of a public agency to maximize efficiency and minimize risk.

There are huge liabilities in the wastewater sector, stemming mostly from the Clean Water Act. As such, public services have largely taken on that risk. So we are looking at example programs like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) for the water sector. We want to make sure low-income residents for utilities get some level of subsidy to pay for any rate increases. This would allow utilities to charge higher rates to their customers, and do more to address the funding gap. We want to move towards a full-cost pricing situation, where we can eliminate the strain on low-income residents.

We have brought this concept to the administration, and some of the language made it to the Trump transition infrastructure team. We still think that the State Revolving Loan Fund—the main source of funding for projects—needs to be fully funded. The Trump administration has previously promised to triple the State Revolving Fund. California would especially benefit from those types of low-interest loans.

The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act is posed to be funded for the first time to the tune of $25-40 million, which will open up a window for the Treasury to make low-interest loans to utilities. This can supplement the State Revolving Fund. The tools in the toolbox are starting to come together. The problem with the tools right now is that most of them are debt-related tools. The utilities still need to go into debt, and will have to pay them back. Still, that does not mean that they are not useful tools.

If we are to talk about a real stimulus bill, money has to be injected by the federal government so that utilities can address the replacement cycle and new innovative technologies without having to go deeper into debt. Overall, it boils down to addressing affordability concerns and bringing private equity into the public realm.

Highways, for example, have benefited from a trust fund for decades that are based on a set of gas and tire taxes. This money has gone to maintain a national highway system that is the backbone of our economy. We need a federal government federal highway system for water that can bring all of the different interest groups together. We need a long-term, dedicated source of funding.

We benefited from the Construction Grants program, which was the largest environmental grants program in the country’s history. This program helped us to build our network of wastewater treatment plants around the country. Now we need to upgrade and take on more risk. The federal government has huge role to play in helping us achieve the needed resiliency to deal with climate-related issues.

Of course, we need to increase state and municipality capacity, but we need a true partner in federal government

Turning back to the local level, what are the pilot projects that are starting to trend towards where the investments are going to be made?

Adel Hagekhalil: We are working with LADWP on increasing our treatment and production of recycled water and utilizing advanced treatment technologies to produce purified water for groundwater recharge.

At the Hyperion Water Treatment Plant, we are working with LADWP and the LA World Airport on a public-private partnership project to provide recycled water to the airport. We are continuing to develop partnerships with the regional agencies such as West Basin and MWD on reusing the flow at the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant in Playa Del Rey.

On the Westside, we are hearing a cry for more recycling and stormwater capture. We are working on a water reclamation plant on a golf course where the water can be used at the golf course, the nearby park, and for the region.

Greenways and rain gardens, as well as cisterns, are becoming commonplace in most new projects. In Lincoln Heights, we have turned a waste site into a groundwater recharge pilot. In South LA, LA Sanitation is leading the charge to clean up illegal dumping and turn the alleys into clean communities that protect our waterways while enhancing the quality of life. We are converting alleys into green alleys, providing green space in urban heat island areas that were previously dumping sites. It makes LA an even better place to live. The future is bright. This will create new jobs and hubs for innovations.  

We got a massive amount of rain this year, but we might be right back into a period of drought in the near future. We cannot stop pushing forward on investing in water reuse and stormwater capture projects.  The implementations of these projects take time. These investments today will pay dividends tomorrow. These projects will make LA resilient and sustainable.

Jack, you were a facilitator for VerdeXchange's mayor-inspired charrette on One Water LA, which also involved Adel, Marty, and Adam. Talk about the upcoming water charrette on June 1 that will follow up on the investments and priorities discussed at VX2017.

Jack Baylis: At VerdeXchange 2016, we pulled together 32 planning and engineering leaders, including a few folks specializing in finance. Marty and Adel presented One Water LA. They set a vision region-wide, and the group brainstormed how to implement this vision.

At VerdeXchange 2017, we reconvened, and dove deeper including conceptual scope, budget, and schedule details on over 20 projects. This was such a productive session that Marty offered to host a summer mid-year VerdeXchange follow-up charrette to capitalize on the energy and ideas discussed in January.

As we try to achieve Mayor Garcetti’s vision to reduce our water imports by 50 percent in a decade, it is important to have a roadmap for how to get there. 

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© 2017 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.