L.A. County’s Measure W: An investment in our water systems, our Health, and our children

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Today, counties around the U.S. are asking residents to Imagine a Day Without Water. A challenge to be sure, but an even bigger challenge is imagining the rest of my life with much less water.  Measure W: The Safe Clean Water Parcel Tax-- which promises to transform the region into a greener, healthier, and more prosperous one-- makes it easier to imagine.

Here’s what the challenge presents in Los Angeles: Drought is the new normal. Extreme heat days are increasing in number. Billions of gallons of precious rainwater are lost to the ocean every year. And, our water and wastewater pipelines are bursting at the seams.

Los Angeles is one of the few regions in the state that continues to be afflicted by the state’s historic drought prompting hydrologists to refer to the region as experiencing a forever drought. Our imported water supplies are strained by competing interests and climate change. Our groundwater supplies are contaminated by a century of industrial discharges. In response, Measure W would capture and filter enough rain and runoff to meet nearly a third of the county’s demand for onsite reuse.

The region is also experiencing the largest heat island effect in the state.  This effect amplifies the sun’s heat when it is absorbed into the hardscape of the built environment. The Center for Disease Control has found that extreme heat causes more deaths than all other weather-related causes combined. During California’s 2006 heat wave, there were 16,166 excess emergency department visits and 1,182 excess hospitalizations across the state, with increases in visits for kidney-related diseases, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. In the decade following this heat wave, LA County Health Department found a steady increase of heat-related emergency room visits. Measure W would invest in green streets, parks, fields and tree canopies that could help reduce heat-related illness and deaths by more than 25%.

Combined, drought and extreme heat decrease soil moisture and increase plant mortality, transforming our semi-arid region into a desert. In the past few years, urban Southern California has lost an estimated 27 million trees. Measure W would leverage investments across regional departments like parks and transportation to offset the drying effect with green landscapes. Like W, these departments are benefitting from tax-payer bonds that can support pocket parks in neighborhoods, bioswales along roads, and a replenished tree canopy.

Further contributing to our regional water loss, the large majority of water and wastewater pipelines lose 25% or more of their contents to leaks. Measure W can help us replace our aging pipelines with a combination of green and grey infrastructure. Studies show that the capital cost of green infrastructure projects come in at 15-80% of its gray counterpart depending on the practice. Moreover, by planning ahead we can save ourselves three times the costs of repairs necessary to fix emergency ruptures.

In addition to saving on costs, Angelenos get a return on our investment by supporting Measure W. When studying water efficiency and reuse projects across the county, economists found that per million dollars spent, 13-16 full-time jobs were created. They also found that each million dollars invested stimulated $1.99 million in regional economic activity.

Critics say the measure does not specify which projects will be constructed nor when the measure will end. They are correct. Measure W creates nine Watershed Area Steering Committees with a balanced number of seats dedicated to local government, business, and residential stakeholders appointed to prioritize and spend revenues on any number of qualifying projects. To their second point, like climate change, Measure W does not account for a reprieve from the extreme weather. It continues to invest in our water systems, because investing in water is investing in our health, our communities, and our children.

So here’s the good news: Voting Yes on Measure W this November 6th offers a near-term solution to our long-term water-climate problem.

Last updated October 10, 2018

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