Here we are again in the midst of a drought or, as I prefer to call it, climate change, when we residents and businesses are urged to conserve water and reduce water use. If you currently live in an area where your water agency receives water from the Colorado River through the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) wholesaler, you have been asked to refrain from using water at the outdoors for 2 weeks while emergency repairs take place; or as someone succinctly put it to me – what about washing your car?
California doesn’t have a water shortage problem, we have a water management problem.
Here in the city of West Hollywood, there is a huge water management problem. The subaquifer that West Hollywood sits on is depleting daily, and the city and water agencies refuse to do anything about it. This has been brought to the attention of the WeHo City Council, the WeHo Planning Commission, and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Board by residents and the Sierra Club Water Committee .
It started many years ago when a resident noticed that his trees and other trees in the neighborhood were dying. Intrigued, he asked an arborist at his residence to diagnose his dying trees. What he learned that day set him on a mission to right a wrong. In her search for allies and at her wits end, someone told her about the Sierra Club. He had never heard of the Sierra Club before; and so began a 7 year journey working on this issue.
The WeHo sub-basin is what is considered a shallow water basin, which means that the water in this aquifer is about 8 to 10 feet below the surface of the street. WeHo’s trees had become accustomed to having access to this water, and suddenly or not so suddenly the water source was no longer present for their roots. Why can you ask?
The City of West Hollywood has begun issuing building permits for underground parking lots and private homes with basements. Since 2010, 1349 building permits have been requested, 451 of them have been approved, the rest are under review. In addition, 175 development permits were applied for during the same period, of which 91 have already been approved. There has been a huge increase in construction.
Because groundwater is so easily accessible during construction, construction companies apply for and receive NPDES permits to pump water out of their construction areas, so they can build. This is called “drying out”. Dewatering can be defined as the process of draining rainwater or groundwater from an excavated area before construction begins. NPDES permits are issued by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board.
Water flows into the storm sewer at the corner of Melrose Avenue and Almont Drive
This dewatering does not stop after construction, as the water continues to replenish, so there is contaminated water continually being pumped down drains to an already heavily contaminated Ballona Creek and Santa Monica Bay. . Groundwater in the Hollywood Subbasin is replenished by percolation from precipitation and streamflow from higher areas to the north. The paving of streets and the lining of drainage channels have reduced the amount of surface area open to direct percolation into underground aquifers, thus limiting the replenishment of the aquifer by a natural process. Some companies such as the Pacific Design Center treat and reuse some of this water, but most do not.
If you walk around the neighborhood, you can see some of this drying out happening in the wee hours of the morning or in broad daylight at the corner of Melrose Ave and Almont Drive. You can see the 2ft wide hose spouting water 24/7. You can hear it before you see it.
So, again, why exactly should we residents heed the call for conservation, when the city allows so much water to be wasted daily in construction areas across the city?
The theme for World Water Day 2022 was Groundwater: Making the Invisible – Visible. Have you ever taken the time to think about the water table beneath your feet? Or where does your water come from?
Groundwater is essentially water stored underground for millennia via the process of snowmelt and rain seeping through porous earth to an aquifer. It fills the spaces between rocks, gravel and soil below the surface of the earth. Groundwater is quite pristine due to the process it undergoes to enter the aquifer. Alas, however, with industrialization we have contaminated most of our groundwater sources.
How does land subsidence affect you, the homeowner?
When large amounts of groundwater have been taken from the ground, the rock and soil become compacted because water is partly responsible for holding the soil together, when water is taken, the rock and soil fold over themselves, causing the ground beneath your property to sink. This means that your home’s foundation can become out of balance, displacing the walls and floors of the home from their original foundation, and causing your home to crack and destabilize. This in turn affects the value of your property.
Image: Cracked foundation wall in West Hollywood by Charming Evelyn
For more evidence, if you look at the houses right next to the dewatering site on the corner of Robertson and Ashcroft and the one next to Restoration Hardware (also a dewatering site) on West Knoll, you will clearly see that both houses have walls cracked from top to bottom. A Dutch study analyzed how different types of subsidence affected property values, finding that uniform subsidence of a house and its surroundings reduced its value by 6%.
The West Hollywood sub-basin
The Hollywood Subbasin is part of the Los Angeles Coastal Plains Groundwater Basin. With a total storage capacity estimated at approximately 200,000 acre-feet. An acre foot or ACF for short is a football field, filled with one foot of water. To put that into perspective in California, one foot of an acre, or 326,000 gallons, can typically meet the annual indoor and outdoor needs of one to two average households. An average household is a family of 4.
A number of techniques can help recharge aquifers and prevent their collapse. Capture and treatment of stormwater and reuse of wastewater can provide water to recharge aquifers as part of a managed aquifer recharge program. Another approach is water-sensitive urban design, a reimagined city that includes green roofs, swales, rain gardens, permeable pavements, engineered wetlands, and urban forests. Of course, we can always reduce the demand on the aquifer.
It’s time to tell the City of West Hollywood and the WeHo Planning Commission to stop issuing permits for basements and underground parking lots that require dewatering and put the wasted water to good use for the community. .
Write the city of WeHo! Letters or petitions should be addressed to:
Weho City Staff Member
Head of the urban design + architecture studio
Liaison officer with the planning commission
It is time to look for solutions and to invest in the capture and treatment of this water to reuse it. Don’t waste, then ask us to save!