How Frightened Should We Be About California’s Drought?

THE VIEW FROM HERE-Whether or not you believe in global warming or climate change, facts are facts and they are undeniable!  Brutal hurricanes and tornadoes and their concomitant flooding down South, cruel blizzards in the Northeast, and severe drought out West are all part of a dismal picture.  We can’t kick the can down the road—it’s long past that time.  

As for us Angelinos, we need to turn our immediate attention to resolving these environmental crises and lead, as Californians always do, in turning around (not just forestalling) this situation before the world implodes upon itself.   

It is not hard to envision an earth that will not be able to sustain life as we know it—it just might have to go back a few thousand millenia to reinvent itself.  The climate-change deniers will be largely responsible for our mutual destruction by ignoring the elephant in the room, but the rest of us will surely shoulder some of the blame as well if we don’t attack the problem now—with or without their help. 

We are faced with an environmental cataclysm and must address every facet of this complex issue at the local, state, and national levels.  We need to work with environmental organizations that already exist and create new ones.  We need to promote studies and write about them to enlighten the less knowledgeable.  

As our population grows, demand logically increases.  The electrical, gas, and water shortages that confront us as a result should be contemplated as a whole with interlinking parts.  We cannot address one without considering the other.

Surprisingly, there has been a history of seeming stubbornness on the part of many DWP officials even to consider alternate methods of water and energy-use reduction.  With a new leader at the helm, Marcie Edwards, I am having increasing faith that she will move forward with the progressive plans of her wonderful predecessor, Ron Nichols, and produce innovative strategies of her own. 

We are currently purchasing more expensive water from the Metropolitan Water District because of the low snowpack from Owens Valley water on which we have depended for decades.  The recent rains will not solve the problem overnight.  It is going to take more rain and snow and more time, and we cannot patiently wait for our water sources to be sufficiently replaced.  Therefore, it is absolutely necessary we consider a number of alternatives that can begin working now and will ultimately save water and money for all DWP and gas customers in the long run. 

There are a number of subterranean irrigation systems that have been devised but all are not equal in efficiency.  I have been impressed by one product, in particular, that is an underground technology that eliminates the evaporation of above-ground water, run-off, metal sprinkler systems and sprinkler heads that are expensive to buy, maintain, and store.  Such heads are also a safety hazard because people can and do easily trip over them and injure themselves (lawsuits as a result have cost the City millions of dollars over the years but can be virtually eliminated by utilizing sprinkler-head alternatives).  The system reduces water use dramatically while producing richer, more abundant fruit, vegetable, and general plant growth.  

Furthermore, this technology uses pesticide-free, natural products that are directly infused into the device to supplement the nutrition of the soil, revitalizing it, and bringing it back to its natural, pre-artificial fertilizer, form.  Augmented growth (in less time) of fruit and vegetables is simply astonishing. 

[I am not promoting any particular system, but we must consider the most viable that are currently available.] 

Another water-saving concept is water metering.  Important results accrue upon installation of these meters.  They measure the volume of water use, provide incentive for water consumption, detect water leaks, help target and assist with water subsidies for the poor.  Depending on the locations in question, studies have demonstrated a 10% to 17% fall in water utilization.  These meters can be installed on individual homes as well as apartments, condominiums, and townhouses. 

These metering technologies are “designed for smart metering, smart grid, and smart water network( ing) to … reduce total cost … and enhanced customer service.” 

In part, cost savings come from eliminating the need to read meters manually (freeing up those workers for the newer, more advanced utility jobs) because meters will be read digitally through remote means.  As a result, consumers can monitor and thus adjust their usage and know, at the same time, that their consumption patterns will be kept private. 

Costs under AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) can determine usage by time of day and season.  It can reveal power-quality problems such as power surges [which can themselves be reduced by the use of anti-surge strips and spacing major usage throughout the day (not using dishwashers and washers and dryers at the same time)].  An additional benefit is that energy reduction can reduce our carbon footprint 

Another way to save is turning off televisions, stereos, and lights in rooms not being used; turning the water stream off while brushing teeth; capturing rainwater for irrigation; installing low-energy appliances, light bulbs, low-flow toilets, shower heads, and faucets—many of which are tax deductible. 

Installation of such smart meters will reduce electrical use by 3-5% per homeowner.  Since HEIP (Home Energy Improvement Program) is free, the lower income consumer can take advantage of these programs.  The disabled and the fixed-income elderly can also benefit.  Residents of areas with excessively high summer temperatures can receive relief as well. 

I cannot help but share with you the poignant account that Ms. Maria Rutledge of South Central Los Angeles eagerly relates to environmentalists, other activists, and lawmakers before whom she frequently makes presentations: 

Her floor heater switch was broken and she was about to replace it when the HEIP technicians (including UPCT workers and their experienced mentors) showed up at her door.  They spent some hours inspecting every aspect of her home and discovered that the floor heater in question was corroded beneath the floor, something she could never have seen with the naked eye.  Had she merely replaced the toggle switch and used the heater, the house could have blown up—injuring or killing her and her immediate neighbors.  

The technicians further found that the ventilation system to her waterheater was not adequate and had it not been repaired in a timely manner, she could have been asphyxiated.   They went on to inspect and repair other issues they found.  She was overwhelmed by their friendliness, professionalism, and expertise.  Literally, tears rise in her eyes whenever she speaks of the experience—recounting just how close to death she had been! 

Since my husband and I are both “retired,” we are eligible for this program as well. Last August at a Green-the-Block event, it was suggested that we apply for HEIP.  I received a call in November which indicated that it had received the application and we would get a subsequent call in about three months.  Right on time, we got the call and an appointment was set up to accommodate my schedule. 

They came on time just a few days later.  Two IBEW professionals appeared at my door, one was the lead man and mentor of the other young man who is diligently working his way through the highly vaunted UPCT Program (about which I have spoken so much in the past).  They were as amazing as I had anticipated. 

They were so thorough, checking every nook and cranny of our home.  They replaced light bulbs and faucet traps, put in hand-held low-flow shower heads, placed smoke detectors in every bedroom and even the family room, plugged in carbon monoxide monitors with battery-back up.  They checked the stove, oven, and water heater for leaks.  They checked our attics for asbestos and determined if our door frames required weather-stripping. They are soon coming back to install a newer-generation low-flow toilet. 

I cannot thank them enough for their high-quality workmanship.  They certainly took pride in what they were doing and performed their tasks efficiently.  Of particular importance to me, they were more than willing to explain what their job was meant to accomplish and to answer all of our questions; they also left literature behind for our perusal.  

Our family is really looking forward to receiving our greatly reduced electric and water bills!  Hurray!  The system really does work!  

And remember, this program is free-of-charge to all of us, the customer!  Just consider how much energy and water will be saved through this one strategy alone—especially at this time of drought when our State is crying out for water and wondering and praying from where it will come.  The rain with which we have been blessed lately is only a drop in the bucket compared to what we need.   Do we really have any other choice than to opt for conservation measures—starting today, not tomorrow or next year or a decade from now. 

I also had the opportunity to chat a bit.  They enthusiastically responded just how glad they were to work for the DWP under the union guidance of IBEW, an organization that is too often viciously maligned.  They answered a question regarding safety and indicated that the deaths incurred by DWP workers exceed those of our police and firefighters combined—and how discouraging it is to see so little news coverage about these work hazards.  I was told that one gentleman just recently was electrocuted and recovering very slowly and painfully in the Grossman Burn Clinic in the Valley.  


I must reiterate the point that the Training and Safety Programs through this union’s City partnership have resulted in a dramatic reduction in such accidents but that the nature of the job means that such injuries and deaths cannot be eliminated altogether.  I hope that by enlightening my readers, more of you will empathize with the dangerous positions we put them in to keep our utilities running and safe for the rest of us.


The Southern California Gas Company, not to be overlooked, is preparing to install advanced gas meters on all residential and business properties free of charge (my home is scheduled for July of this year).  They will increase the accuracy of reading the natural gas meters.  They are battery-operated but will only use a fraction of a second per day on energy in order to communicate usage to the utility company.  The consumers benefit by being able to access the information on a continuous basis and thus be able to plan their consumption and saving needs accordingly (something which free energy audits will also help determine).


It is up to us.  We must use our voices to make the movers and shakers act on our behalf and to act now.   As the old adage commands, we can no longer be part of the problem.  Our actions will require immediate attention and an ultimate solution.


For more information, please contact the following:


(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Coalition. Jenkins has written Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, A Quick-and-Easy Reference to Correct Grammar and Composition and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts.  She also writes for CityWatch.)












Vol 12 Issue 18

Pub: Feb 28, 2014