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CityFixer

Los Angeles Dispenses Free Recycled Water to Its Residents

Amid the statewide drought, a new pilot program hopes to promote the local water supply.

A recycled water fill station in Burbank, California. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

California may have lifted its emergency water-use restrictions in May, but that doesn’t mean the region’s dry spell has ended. It’s just no longer what Felicia Marcus of the state water board described to Time as “the-worst-snowpack-in-500-years drought.”

Now that the past year’s El Nino rainstorms have brought some life back into the west coast lands, California cities and residents are working to implement water conservation practices as a part of everyday life.

A new program from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is one such case in point. As of June 21, Angelenos visiting the L.A. Zoo on Tuesday mornings will pass by a fill station in the parking lot where they can line up with leak-proof containers and collect locally sourced, recycled water—not to drink, but to use for a whole host of other needs, from watering plants to rinsing down furniture.

It’s free, but before people can collect the water, they have to go through a training session with an on-site staffer. A short PowerPoint presentation outlines the benefits of shifting reliance away from imported water and toward local resources, and how putting recycled water to use around the house can drive down the cost of bills and offset the demand for drinking water, says LADWP spokesperson Ellen Cheng. After residents complete their training, they’re given a wallet card to present on return trips.

The program is still in its pilot phase, but Cheng says that the LADWP plans to open another fill station later in the summer at the L.A.-Glendale Water Reclamation Plant, right across the highway from the Zoo, which was originally chosen for its proximity to the plant, Next City reported. At the plant, the fill station will operate on the weekends, easing access to the resource for those unable to make the Tuesday morning time slot at the Zoo.

While still too early in the process to gauge the program’s efficacy, Cheng says it’s a step in the right direction for Los Angeles, which still relies on water imported from hundreds of miles away for 90 percent of its supply. In a statement to the LADWP, Los Angeles Councilmember David Ryu said that the city is in the process of strengthening its local supply, leaning more heavily on stormwater capture, groundwater, and recycled water. Programs like the fill station pilot are the link the city needs to connect public awareness with conservation policies.

The fill-station model has already worked elsewhere in California. The Dublin-San Ramon services district began dishing out non-potable recycled water to residents at the two local facilities in 2014, in response to severe drought. The program is still ongoing; Burbank and Santa Clara have followed suit. Dan Gallagher, a plant manager for the Dublin-San Ramon district, told The Mercury News that he was “blown away” by the program’s popularity, adding: “No one is happy about the drought shortages, but people are happy to have an option for a little help.”

For California, some measure of drought will likely be, as The New York Times wrote in May, “the new normal.” Through the fill station pilot, the LADWP hopes people will understand that collecting and using recycled water isn’t just a temporary deviation from the norm—it’s a part of a greater shift in how people access and use an increasingly scarce resource.

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