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How to Avoid Our Own “Day Zero” in LA County

April 21 is a day every resident of Cape Town, South Africa has circled on his or her calendar with dread. After three consecutive years of drought, “Day Zero”—the point at which officials will be forced to turn off the tap—looms over the city as Cape Town prepares to become the first big city in the world to run out of water.

Soon, Capetonians will have to get in line—literally—to collect the water they need for basic needs like showering, cooking dinner, and even flushing the toilet. Under the watchful eye of armed guards, each resident will be allotted seven gallons per day—a far cry from the 86 gallons the average Los Angeles resident consumes daily.

The situation is startling. But what may startle residents of southern California even more: Cape Town is not alone.  According to the Nature Conservancy’s first global survey of megacities’ water sources, Los Angeles ranks ninth globally, and #1 nationwide in the list of most water-stressed cities.

So, after experiencing years of crushing drought, many locals may look on at Cape Town in shock and ask themselves: Are we next?

Curbed LA recently investigated. The good news? The answer is a resounding “no”—at least for now. The region maintains a diverse roster of water sources. Yet, Curbed discovered that what may afflict Los Angeles is not a lack of water, but a lack of infrastructure to preserve the precious water we’ve got:

If Los Angeles does have some naturally-occurring water sources, why are we so water-scarce?

We’re bad at holding onto the water we do have. Most of our water is lost either through poorly-maintained infrastructure or natural phenomena, such as evaporation. When we use approximately 12 million gallons of water annually, on average, every drop counts.

During the long drought in California, residents mobilized in metropolises like Los Angeles and San Francisco, tearing out their lawns, reducing their almond consumption, and finding solace in succulents. When the rains returned, however, so did our appetite for a long shower. Water demand remains high.

That means L.A. has work to do if it wants to avoid its own “Day Zero.”

As Curbed reports:

It’s an unfortunate reality that while LA has drastically reduced its water demand—Cooley confirmed that despite the city’s population growth, water use is lower today than it was 30 years ago—it’s still necessary to prepare for long droughts, to better recycle water, and to continue to reduce use.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” says [Kelly Sanders, environmental scientist at USC], “and a lot of that is changing public behavior. We still live as a culture where we really believe that the taps won’t run dry.”

While Los Angeles may be safe from the dystopian, water-choked future of Cape Town for now, the time has come to plan and, more importantly, build for the future. With modern infrastructure projects to collect precious stormwater, L.A. County can avoid a day when the taps run dry. Otherwise, we may be the next ones waiting in line for water.