SoCal gets mixed grades on environment

By Robert Jablon The Associated Press
Wednesday October 23, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Southern California got mixed grades in a new study on protecting the environment, ranking high in recycling but nearly failing in use of treated wastewater. 

Few homeowners would use reclaimed water for bathing, cooking or drinking, even if treatment made it as pure as tap water, according to a report card to be issued Wednesday by the UCLA Institute of the Environment. 

That attitude prevailed even though wastewater from showers, sinks and toilets could potentially provide supplies equal to about 50 percent of current water consumption, the report said. 

Consumers were less reluctant to use reclaimed water for outdoor purposes. 

New water supplies are needed because Southern California relies heavily on imported water, notably from the Colorado River, that are shrinking due to demand from other states and environmental protection measures. 

Further, global warming means “the next drought could be more severe and longer than any we can remember, and the problems it creates could make our electricity shortage seem trivial by comparison,” the study concluded. 

The public got a D for its lack of interest in reclaimed water, but the study gave public agencies an A for leadership efforts on the issue, noting that in 2000 the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts produced more than 520 million gallons of treated wastewater each day. 

The report gave a C+ to state and federal agencies for efforts to protect biodiversity in the face of California’s population growth, noting the state is one of 25 recognized “hotspots” in the world where irreplaceable plant and animal species are severely threatened. 

The Southern California coast was cited as the most critically endangered area of the state. 

At least 21 animal and 34 plant species in California have become extinct in recent decades, including the gray wolf and California grizzly bear, the state’s official animal. Nearly two-thirds of the state’s native fish species are extinct, endangered or in significant decline, the report said. 

The report praised a state program that works with land owners, developers and environmentalists to craft plans to preserve ecosystems. Researchers also said California as a whole has strong popular interest in protecting the environment. 

The state’s relatively strong economy “should allow the region to be at the forefront of worldwide conservation efforts,” it said. 

Southern California got a B+ for increased recycling efforts. But the report warned that “imaginative, potentially expensive and politically controversial programs” will be needed to reverse an increase in the amount of solid waste going to landfills as the population soars. 

The report also graded a series of building projects in the city of Los Angeles. A program to build new urban parks got an A, as did several developments deemed environmentally friendly and energy efficient. 

But the Belmont Learning Complex, the troubled high school construction project near downtown Los Angeles, got a D for planning failures after pockets of methane gas were discovered beneath the site.