LA's high-tech, thoughtful water management is cause for cautious optimism about adapting to climate change


Originally published at:


So, sort of the opposite of Colorado, where putting a rain barrel under the downspout from your own roof is unlawful because it impounds runoff.


…not anymore. It took a lot of lawyering, but it’s now legal to catch up to 50 gallons from your roof, with some caveats. for one thing, it has to be used for irrigation and not go down the sanitary sewer.

In the article, it mentioned that SoCal is dependent on water from the Colorado River. If we (CO) hoard too much runoff, the water levels of the river drop and CA gets none. Our downstream neighbors have claims on our precipitation that go back to the Spanish Colonial era water laws.

Edit: I’m adding a link to a Smithsonian article about who gets to pull water from the Colorado river.

The Colorado River Runs Dry


Newer laws, written with state of the art hydrology in mind, would be very interesting to me. I wonder if any younger states in Europe or Asia have done any better than North America in this regard?

(though I imagine Nestlé and its ilk have had their hands all over such things)


Oh, I’m not the person to ask. If I had my way, I’d dam all of CA’s water supply until they took back ALL of their human exports who move here and complain non-stop about living in CO. “Nobody has _________ here like they do in Cali. Harrumph!”


First order of things: IMPOSE A LAWN BAN
replace with drought resistant vegetation and/or crops.


Glad you brought this up. In L.A., Prop 72 just passed by a landslide. It means that property assessments cannot add value (for tax purposes) based around residential water efficiency improvements. So if I get rid of the concrete driveway and put in a cistern, no tax hike. I’m doing okay with rain barrels, but have no connected system or pump so it’s all manual. In the patio, I’m walking a bucket at a time to whatever needs it. In the front yard, hoses and gravity.

There have also been LADWP incentives to replace lawns with xeriscape, but like the HERO eco-financing program, it’s attracting a lot of crappy borderline-scammer contractors. Those jobs are quite apparent 3 months later when weeds are poking through the cover media.

We’re filling a bucket each morning while awaiting hot shower water. I’m thinking of getting a recirculation pump for that while figuring out what’s going on with the tankless heater. I’ve descaled, watch some videos about the circuit board censors but have yet to take the whole thing apart for that.

I agree with the phrase “cautious optimism.” L.A.'s draw is still only sustained by the claims/rights you mentioned and without it we’d descend into mad max water anarchy. I wonder if an analysis has been done on the value of the upstream communities co-investing in desalination plants for So Cal. It could pay off if our water districts could then release enough of those claims (maybe water itself, or hydro power).


You’re not alone - I’ve been seeing lots of other disappointed tankless heater owners on the home improvement chatboards.


California, like the rest of the US Southwest, is on prior appropriation water law which is explicitly based on white supremacy and manifest destiny. Whoever was the first white male landowner to steal the water from the Indians has the “right” to that water - as long as they keep using it up (and how’s that for an incentive?).

In the slightly saner* part of the USA, riparian law says nobody owns flowing water, it’s a public trust, and while you can take water out of a watercourse, you have to return it or an equalish volume to the system “substantially unchanged.” Corruption and regulatory capture being what they are, there are many problems and abuses, but it’s not as inherently broken, racist and morally hazardous as prior appropriation law.

* EDIT - referring only to water law here, I wrote that poorly. The sanity of states outside the Southwest is highly variable in other regards!


Uhhhh…you don’t think the differences in ecology might have something to do with the differences in the laws?

The Southwest doesn’t have any extra water to throw around. “In the slightly saner part of the USA” you have things like swamps.


Sure, you’re absolutely right, it’s entirely a function of scarcity.

That doesn’t make it any less appalling how the scarce resources were allotted. It boils down to murder of indigenous peoples for their water rights.

But you can argue that in the riparian states European colonists murdered the natives for even less defensible reasons, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. There’s no great moral high ground here in the East. :frowning:


Oh, I totally assumed you were referring only to water laws. I’ve been ‘Back East’, and I’m not cutting you provincialists ANY slack at all!


First order of things: IMPOSE A LAWN BAN



Obligatory read: Cadillac Desert - by Marc Reisner. A dry read at times (pun intended).
For something a little different, with less politics & more wonder at the world around us, try: The Secret Knowledge of Water - by Craig Childs. (I really enjoyed this, I rarely re-read books, but this one might be due).


Oh, they fight over water in the East, too!


AHA! I thought that rang a bell! The Secret Knowledge of Water - by Craig Childs. That’s going on my list.

I read this by him, as it is about the disappearance (drifting off) of the Anasazi. He hikes from one ancient outpost to the next, relying on unreliable water sources along the way. House of Rain


Seattle does this too, and actually gives you a rebate to install a rain garden. I’ve seen it spreading out to smaller cities in the PNW like Bellingham.


I’ll be adding House of Rain to my list. Thanks!


A WHOLE LOTTA birds eat the fruits in the fall, then poop the seeds all over the neighborhood. I didn’t even have to plant them, as there was no lawn when I got here:

Prickly Pear cacti in bloom


It is unacceptable that an article on water scarcity and conservation completely omitted any mention of greywater. And when it comes to LA groundwater, how can you not even mention that there is a giant underground plume of hexavalent chromium that we have to manage? There’s a reason why we pump groundwater up, treat it, and pump it back into the ground.