By now everyone knows about the drought, although some people seem to be in de-
nial about the problem it presents. For those who haven’t heard yet, there is
a 20% reduction in water use mandated for residents and businesses.
However, new developments – some of them especially water-intensive – continue
to make their way through the planning process. Even as residents try to reduce
their consumption, the city’s overall consumption is well on its way to new
Santa Monica gets much of its water from its own wells, purchasing the rest from
the Metropolitan Water District. MWD water, which comes from the Colorado River,
rain and snow melt, is especially susceptible to the effects of drought, and as
the water supply from the state diminishes, the cost of that water will rise.
To reduce the impact of an unstable state water supply, the City developed a plan
to be water self-sufficient by 2020. Included in this plan are construction of
two new wells, and various other water-conservation measures and treatment plant improvements.
As with our current wells, new wells will draw from a vulnerable underground sup-
ply shared, and desired, by others, with no current restrictions on who can draw
upon that underground source.
New conservation measures, while laudable, will not reverse the rising water-consumption trend, because conservation cannot trump an increase in the number
of users, and the proposed increased fees do not ‘make’ more water.
In January, 2013 the city consumed approximately 10 million gallons of water per day. We were asked to conserve a mere 200,000 gals per day, a reduction of two gallons per day per person, or 2 percent. One year later, in January of 2014, wa-
ter consumption had jumped to 12 million gallons per day, a 20 percent increase!
And now, after the State declared a severe drought and asked for voluntary cons-
ervation efforts, consumption has risen another 2 percent.
Today we’re faced with mandatory cuts at the risk of significant penalties. Yet
we see no serious attempt to put the brakes on excessive development, with seve-
ral development agreements having just been presented to the Planning Commission
and City Council.
A 12-story mixed-use commercial/residential/hotel project proposed downtown, will have enormous impact on existing infrastructure, especially water demand. Two ho-
tels have already been approved, and another very large mixed-use project at the
Fred Segal site, as well as eight mixed-use residential/commercial projects in a four-block area along Lincoln Blvd.
Twenty-two projects in a 12-block area of downtown have applied for development agreements. And this does not include the three proposed condo/hotel projects on Ocean Avenue that many in this community consider ridiculously over-scaled.
City government has not asked us to subsidize new development. but that is the
net effect of continuing to encourage and process large developments that in-
crease the city’s water consumption–especially projects substantially larger
than basic zoning allows. Is this something residents want?
This past year has been the driest in recorded California history. There was a similar dry year over 100 years ago, but our population has grown 40 times since then–and with indoor plumbing and hygiene changes, consumption is probably clos-
er to 100 times what it was then.
The City’s solutions to water shortages depend on access to resources over which
the city has little control. This includes the new wells, accessing regional aqui-
fers over which we have no control of depletion since they are available to oth-
ers. And with any shortfalls provided by the wells, the City will have to purch-
ase water from MWD, whose sources are also being depleted.
The reliance on uncontrollable resources means that a reliable plan cannot, in
fact, be prepared, and the risk of draconian cuts and ballooning costs increases
with each new project being approved. We already see proposed rate increases to account for aging infrastructure, which loses about 13% through leakage, and
these costs will increase further as the infrastructure must be adapted to all
the new projects approved or in the pipeline.
The City is already doing some things right, on the water conservation side. But
more must be done:
• The city must commit to the widespread use of greywater systems, and plan for
a fully greywater-enabled city within the next twenty years;
• The city should require the installation of water meters in all dwellings and apartments;
• Efficient metering and control systems for hotels should be mandatory;
• A more aggressive water-use policing effort throughout the City should be imp-
• A strong rain harvesting effort is needed as well.
It is clear that with a severe drought upon us, we should all do our part to con-
serve water, even as we understand that conserving water is not the same as in-
creasing the supply.
The State requires new developments with more than 500 units to supply their own water, exclusive of the city’s supply. Such projects must go outside the city to obtain their own water. As part of SMa*r*t*, we believe that our City’s own poli-
cies on infrastructure and development should be held to the same standard of re-
duced demand, including placing a hold on large projects unable to provide their
own water supplies.
There are at least 2100 new units in the pipeline just downtown, but the City does not require those projects to bring their own water because none reaches the 500-
unit threshold (the defunct Hines project ‘oddly’ limiting itself to 498 units).
Residents and local businesses already carry the weight of conservation in the city, even as daytime population swells to over 300,000 transient visitors who consume water at hotels, restaurants, beach showers, and public restrooms. There is no rea-
son to burden residents and local businesses with the increased infrastructure
costs that large developments bring, in this water-constrained environment.
For many years, comedians and radio pundits, led by Harry Shearer, referred to San-
ta Monica as “the home of the homeless.” Let’s make sure our city will never be
known as “the home of the waterless.”
By Dan Jansenson, Architect and Bob Taylor, A.I.A. for SMa*r*t*,
Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow
Ron Goldman FAIA, Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA, Bob Taylor AIA, Dan Jansenson Architect, Sam Tolkin Architect, Thane Roberts AIA, Armen Melkonians Civil & Environmental Engineer, Phil Brock Chair, Recreation & Parks Commission. SMa.r.t. is a group of Santa Monica Architects concerned about the city’s future. For previous articles, please see santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writings.