LA Sanitation is the environmental agency for the city of Los Angeles (LA) serving over 4 million customers.  It manages LA’s storm water system, protects watersheds and provides solid resource services, all with the goal of protecting public health and the environment.

Key challenges for LA Sanitation include high dependency on imported water, severe drought, extreme rainfall due to climate change and the resulting storm water issues, decreased wastewater flows due to conservation efforts which have limited the ability to create recycled water, fragmented wastewater management and lack of public engagement and trust. 

Addressing these myriad issues took planning, innovation and a willingness to collaborate.  Solutions were conceptualized in the One Water LA Plan, which aimed to create resiliency and connect the “dots, drops and hearts” of LA. Central to the success of the Plan was engaging the public and forming new partnerships. Participants in One Water LA planning included LA’s Mayor Garcetti, water and power partners, and LA’s airport (LAX) and harbor, among others. LA Sanitation’s goal was to find ways to manage water holistically with everyone engaged in finding solutions.

One notable success is the partnership with LAX which was already going through a large-scale renovation.  Spotting an opportunity disguised as a gravel pit considered an eyesore by the community, LA Sanitation was able to buy 1,000 acres of land including the gravel pit via bond and convert it to wetlands to clean and recharge water while providing open space and a park to improve the community’s quality of life. This newly created recycled water system now supplies LAX’s water needs.  Thanks to LA Sanitation’s creative solution to address multiple issues, the “Not in my backyard” sentiment previously held by LA residents has turned into a “Please do this in my backyard” sentiment.  This example shows how innovative water management can bring people together in unexpected positive ways.

One of LA Sanitation’s biggest challenges, storm water, became one of its biggest opportunities and successes.  Beach water quality had been low for years; with most LA beaches receiving an F grade due in part to polluted storm water.  In addition, every ½ inch of rain resulted in three billion gallons of wasted run off. LA Sanitation looked for ways to recapture this run off water and improve its quality so the water could be used as a resource. Through a combination of low flow diversions to move water from storm drains to sewers, green infrastructure to capture, clean and reuse storm water and effective sewer management practices, the water quality at LA beaches improved. Now almost 100% of LA beaches receive an A grade in water quality.

Another challenge LA Sanitation successfully met concerned the energy/water nexus. The Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant was dependent on electrical power and wasted valuable biogas. In addition, its aging control systems needed an upgrade and the practice of landfilling bio-solids was costly. LA Sanitation found a multi-faceted solution that helped LA residents, including residents of the LA Zoo. LA Sanitation’s Digester Gas Utilization Project now converts the plant’s biogas to electric and steam power, which covers nearly 100% of the plant’s power requirements. As an added bonus, a new partnership was created between LA Sanitation and the LA Zoo where bio-solids at the LA Sanitation’s Green Acres Farm are now repurposed to create specialized feed for zoo animals. This resilient, creative solution shows that sometimes solutions can create even more beneficiaries than anticipated.

LA Sanitation’s future goals include efficiency improvements via smart system integration into operations and energy performance tracking, securing sustainable funding sources for storm water capture, implementing a performance based project delivery model for storm water reclamation projects and creating a regional water reclamation and reuse plan using the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant as a hub. LA Sanitation’s goal is to use every drop of water and resource as wisely, sustainably and efficiently as possible. With LA Sanitation’s track record, the goal is within reach.