Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District, knows how to deliver bad news in a positive manner.
The district distributes an average of 1.7 billion gallons of water each day to cities and local agencies in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura Counties. They, in turn, distribute the water to customers. Only the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which brings Los Angeles most of its water, approaches the MWD in size. But the process is potentially imperiled because of the drought.
Speaking to Town Hall Los Angeles Monday, Kightlinger didn’t minimize the difficulties. “Pretty much unprecedented,” he said. “I’ve never seen a drought like this.” A study of tree rings, he said, indicated this is a 500-year record.
Kightlinger, who rose through the MWD’s legal department, spoke in a calm and clear way. Having written about water politics and policy when I was with the Los Angeles Times, I was impressed with the way he took his large audience through the complexities of how the Southland obtains and distributes its water and the specifics of how it is threatened. He also told what the MWD is doing about it, although it’s up to the individual water districts in each county to make specific rules for their consumers.
He said that while population is increasing, so is water conservation. “We are accommodating more people with less water,” he said.
For the future, he said, the days of huge water projects that brought Southern California water from the Colorado River, Northern California and the Owens Valley are over. The MWD’s job, he said, is to make sure the existing sources are reliable. In view of the drought, I thought this might be more up to nature than the MWD engineers.
Much of the area’s water comes from underground sources. These must be protected from pollution and regulated in line with recently passed state law. Recycling of water will increase. The process is expensive and energy- consuming, but the MWD’s goal is to have a substantial amount of water from recycled sources in the next 25 years. Rebates to consumers will continue for use of water- saving devices. School districts will be encouraged to use artificial turf on their fields instead of water- consuming grass.
His bottom line was to urge the audience to support Proposition 1 on the November ballot, a $7.12 billion bond issue that would finance better management of waste water, captures storm water that now flows to the sea, recycling, clean up of underground water sites and create more storage facilities.
I looked around at the packed audience, mostly business people, and saw they were engaged by his talk. The question and answer period could have continued after his time was up. The drought is moving up toward the top of the list of public worries.