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David Beckman’s Blog

Wasting LA’s Water During a Drought

David Beckman

Posted April 28, 2009

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The Los Angeles Daily News recently reported that 5.28 percent of the water handled by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) never gets delivered to homes or businesses because it leaks out of old or poorly maintained pipes before it gets there.   This level of performance is not, believe it or not, that bad relatively speaking.  But in absolute terms, it's a staggering waste particularly given the drought and long-term water challenges facing California and the West.  

To put the number in context, consider that the City of Los Angeles uses on average 600,000 to 650,000 acre-feet of water per year.  600,000 acre-feet equals 195,510,600,000 gallons of water per year (195 billion gallons).  5.28 percent of 600,000 acre-feet is 31,680 acre-feet, or ten billion gallons (10,322,959,680 gallons).  That means 10 billion gallons of water is lost from the delivery system every year.  

Household water use estimates vary, but one acre-foot is generally seen as the amount necessary for a family of 3-4 in a year.  That being the case, the amount of water effectively misplaced by the DWP every year (that "falls off the truck," as it were) would be enough for between 31,680 and 63,360 households in Southern California.

What does this tell us?  The value we put on water still has virtually no correlation to its real worth.   Imagine if 5 percent of another natural resource-say oil, just for fun-leaked out of pipes every year.   Indeed, perhaps the most famous oil spill in recent memory, from the Exxon Valdez, spewed an estimated 11,000,000 gallons of oil, roughly 0.0011 (one one-thousandth) percent the volume of LA water lost annually. 

Now, this is not to say that the Valdez spill was small.  It wasn't.  Its environmental consequences were massive.  Spilling clean water and crude are two different things. 

But I have to think at some point in the not so distant future, we will look at the amount of water we lose every year in circumstances like those in Los Angeles, and the inefficient use we make of water generally in the U.S., as a bizarre artifact of another age.  That day can't come too soon.


Calculations (with many thanks to NRDC's Noah Garrison):

600,000 acre-feet * 325,851 gallons = 195,510,600,000 gallons

600,000 acre-feet * 0.0528 = 31,680 acre-feet

31,680 acre-feet * 325,851 gallons = 10,322,959,680 gallons

11,000,000 gallons / 10,322.959,680 gallons = 0.0011



LADWP - Securing L.A.'s Water Supply (May 2008)  

NOAA - Exxon Valdez - Office of Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (EVOS) Damage Assessment and Restoration  

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John McMurdoMay 4 2009 02:00 AM

I am personally concerned when "we" do not maintain a disciplined approach to using resources wisely; Especially water which we are soon not going to have enough of in the right places in the higher demand future. I like your analogy to the EV oil spill. I am concerned when waste adds to the burden already created by lifestyles of thoughtless consumption without adequate counter balancing behaviors. That is a lot of water "wasted" or rather undelivered before getting naturally recycled. However.

I invented a product (and I do not mean to be commercial only civil) that used broadly will save or conserve 5.5 billion gallons of water/week if only used by 100M people once a week. It will reduce by 50-60 percent the toilet paper used by an individual it is cheap and pays for itself many times over but the best thing is it enormously reduces water and paper demand while improving hygiene and health. I believe it is the civil duty of everyone to have and use this product and easily individually create a positive effect on the quality of life for everyone, and live sustainably. This product is on the market and I'm not trying to market this to you your concern over the waste caught my attention so I thought I'd bring this product and solution to your attention. You are welcome to request this product and evaluate it from your professional perspectinve as to the claims I have made and the savings that could be effected with broad use. As a water conservationist you should be interested in this product.

Thanks for your concern and I hope to hear back from you. You have my Email address


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