Water Management in Los Angeles County: a Research Report

S. Pincetl, M. Glickfeld, D. Cheng, M. Cope, K. Naik, E. Porse, P. Cleland, C. Hirashiki, E. Merton, K. Holdsworth, C. Kuklowski



Over the past four years, California has grappled with a deep drought. Snow pack was at its lowest in 300 years. In certain parts of the state, water no longer flows from household taps, while in others, the ground is sinking from overpumping of groundwater reserves. Aging urban water infrastructure is causing important water losses from chronic disrepair and acute pipe failures, even as farmers and urban residents are mandated to cut water use. Across the state, water moves over far distances through highly engineered systems that were designed based on significant snowpack and rainfall from a wetter climate. As water scarcity increases from droughts and population growth, the state is struggling to revamp the complex system of water management to deal with challenges of the 21st century. California’s water management system is highly decentralized and complex, made up of thousands of actors that act in largely uncoordinated ways. The majority of decision making power for water-related issues lies at the local level. Local water suppliers interface with regional and state agencies to obtain imported water and meet environmental regulations, responding to available rainfall, legislative developments, and prices with policies that aim to maintain reliable water for the customers. Los Angeles replicates this statewide system at a regional scale. Our research examined gaps, overlaps, inefficiencies and successes in the current water management system of LA County to help the region advance goals of Integrated Regional Water Management.

Undertaking a thorough analysis of the region’s supply, distribution, groundwater, and water data infrastructure systems establishes the groundwork for a deeper analysis to create a truly integrated, resilient water management system for the region. This research also provides the first comprehensive picture of the current water system in Los Angeles County, comprised of an enormously complex network of institutions and infrastructure that is opaque even to managers. While the analysis is grounded in southern California, water management in the state is equally fragmented and poorly mapped. As concerns emerge, including budget shortfalls, climate change, and population growth, policy measures must promote new technologies, institutional reforms, and collaboration that evolves the current system to meet future challenges.

This report analyzes some of the ways the state of California and local water entities can achieve this goal.

Working Paper | 2015

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