Photographed IRWD sign from an Irvine neighborhood Credit - Kara McKittrick

The rapidly growing Los Angeles population threatens to deny the irrigation water California farmlands are dependent on and has reduced the Colorado River Aqueduct to historically low levels. There is plenty of blame to go around as city planners and politicians battle for the supply of water to meet the ever-growing population’s demand.

CNN reports “Not only are its reservoirs already at critically low levels due to unrelenting drought, residents and businesses across the state are also using more water now than they have in seven years.”

The issue of local water becoming less and less accessible leads to high demand for water to be imported from as far away as Colorado. “With climate change, imported water is becoming less and less viable,” reports Stephan Tucker, general manager of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California adding that “through the use of recycled water, the goal is to be locally sustainable so that we are less and less dependent on imported water.”

The significance of this issue is highlighted by Kelsey Hinton — communications director of Community Water Center, “urban communities which typically get water from the state’s reservoirs don’t seem to understand the severity of the drought in the way that rural communities do, where water could literally stop flowing out of the tap the moment their groundwater reserves are depleted.”

An hour south of Los Angeles the Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD) appears to be on the right track to eliminate dependency on imported water through innovative visionary programs involving the tapping of deep well aquifers, conservation of groundwater, and the recycling of run-off for irrigation. In fact, under this enlightened program, Irvine, a city located in an arid region, has been designated in the top 5 green area communities in the USA due to high-quality planned parks and open spaces. It was pointed out that IRWD maintains low-cost water availability even during drought seasons.

According to the Irvine Ranch Water District website, “half of the IRWD water supply comes from local groundwater wells and a quarter of the service area’s water demands are met with recycled water.” In fact, imported water only makes up less than one-fifth of the district’s water supply!

To target the shortage of water issues, Natural Treatment System Wetlands (NTS) have been created in residential communities to collect run-off water and clean pollutants and bacteria through natural planting at 35 sites across the city. This method of sustainable water practice allows for wastewater to be recycled back to irrigation and cleaned prior to eventually run-off at the Upper Newport Bay area.

Although these solutions seem intuitive, not many communities have laid out effective systems of water recycling like IRWD. The solution to solving water shortage needs to be rethought around utilizing local resources versus pulling water resources from other outlying communities. If smaller cities in arid zones such as Irvine are able to achieve independence of imported water supporting community green space lifestyles, then other cities should take note and adopt similar sustainable practices!

Clarification: An earlier version of this post left the impression the City of Irvine is operating imported and local drinking water supplies, recycled water and NTS sites that are instead being headed up by the Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD). Read more about IRWD operations and their service area here.

Kara McKittrick is an environmentalist (Grade 11- Northwood High School) from Irvine seeking to share viable solutions to significant environmental issues that impact communities through her platform,

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