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Tujunga Spreading Grounds will soon store 5 billion gallons of stormwater

Aug 25, 2016

Matt Stevens | Los Angeles Times

{From left, L.A. County Department of Public Works Director Gail Farber, Councilmember Nury Martinez, Mayor Eric Garcetti and DWP General Manager David Wrigh break ground on the Tujunga Spreading Grounds enhancement project. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)}

The Tujunga Spreading Grounds may look like a vast, barren plot of dirt.

But it’s what’s beneath the dirt that matters.

Earlier this week, officials brandished shiny shovels to break ground on a project there that they say will play a key role in bolstering the region’s water supply and protecting against future droughts.

The spreading grounds, a 150-acre tract of porous soil in the northeast San Fernando Valley, capture stormwater that falls from the sky or runs off from nearby mountains and hills, and allows the water to filter into a vast aquifer that can be drawn down when the resource is in short supply.

Under the $29-million expansion plan launched Monday, officials said the groundwater recharge facility will double in capacity by 2018, helping ween Angelenos off increasingly expensive and unreliable imported water.

“There’s a giant lake underneath us,” David Wright, the newly appointed general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said Monday at the site. “We need to fill it up.”

Currently, the Tujunga Spreading Grounds can capture and store about 8,000 acre-feet of water a year, officials said. That figure is expected to double to 16,000 acre-feet, or 5 billion gallons — enough water to supply 48,000 Los Angeles households each year.

Capturing more stormwater at the spreading grounds helps ensure that the precious commodity does not run off into the Pacific Ocean. The project will also provide new open space and a walking path for nearby residents, officials said.

“This is a huge priority for me,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has developed a series of water-related goals for the region as part of his Sustainable City Plan.

DWP customers, spurred on by state drought regulations, are already well on their way to meeting one of the plan’s goals: cutting per-capita water usage by 20% compared with fiscal year 2013-2014.

But five years of drought have also forced water providers statewide to invest in ways to diversify their supply. By increasing the use of recycled wastewater, capturing more stormwater and even turning to ocean water desalination, the argument goes, districts can protect their customers from future water shortages.

Garcetti wants Los Angeles to reduce its purchase of imported water by 50% by 2025 and obtain half of its water locally by 2035.

Currently, only 15% of the city’s water comes from Los Angeles, the mayor said. About 57% is imported and purchased from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a DWP spokeswoman said.

Specifically, Garcetti has called on Los Angeles to capture 150,000 acre-feet of stormwater annually; the spreading ground expansion project is expected to help get the city about 88% of the way there by 2035.

“The severity of the current drought and the challenges of climate change, population growth and an unreliable imported water supply require the combined attention and effort of the entire region,” said Gail Farber, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Works, which operates the Tujunga Spreading Grounds. “The city of Los Angeles has been a fantastic partner in this regard."

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