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Los Angeles has made strides in recycling water, trash and building materials, but is failing to protect its unique plants and wildlife, according to a UCLA Institute of the Environment report.
In their annual Southern California Environmental Report Card, researchers looked at how government agencies and the public are handling water recycling, garbage disposal, bio-diversity and sustainable building.
The Los Angeles Unified School District got a D for its handling of the controversial Belmont Learning Center, a $175 million high school that was abandoned because of environmental problems. The report blamed poor planning for overlooking the risks created by explosive methane gas leaking from an old oil field beneath the site.
Southern California faces dwindling imported water supplies from the Colorado River and the Owens Valley and is going to have to look for sources closer to home, researchers said. They suggest recycled water essentially, treated wastewater could potentially meet up to half of Southern California's water needs.
Water officials are skeptical. "Unless we push the envelope a little it will be very hard to reach that (goal),' said Tom Erb, director of water resources for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
An earlier DWP proposal to put treated wastewater into the San Fernando groundwater basin and drinking water supply prompted public outrage, and project was shelved. Likewise, researchers cited a recent survey in which most Los Angeles homeowners said they would oppose bringing recycled water into their kitchens, even if the treated water was as pure as tap water.
Report authors gave the public a D for its lack of interest and incorrect perception of recycled water, gave Los Angeles city and county sanitation agencies an A for their progress in reclaiming and distributing treated wastewater for irrigation and industrial uses.
Angelenos are producing more and more trash per person 4.6 pounds per person per day at last count and population growth may soon outpace any improvements local government makes in diverting trash from landfills, researchers said.
The city of Los Angeles said it diverted 59 percent of its trash from the dump in 2000, more than the state-mandated 50 percent. That number has not yet been confirmed by the state.
However, to keep half of its trash out of landfills, the city will have to lobby the state for "imaginative, potentially expensive and politically controversial programs,' researchers said.
Local government got a B-plus for trash diversion.
Los Angeles public agencies get mixed reviews for recycling urban land and buildings. Researchers reviewed "sustainable building' a term used to describe projects that minimize waste and consider the potential impact on the surrounding environment.
The city of Los Angeles, the DWP and several utilities were given As for their sustainable building, urban parks and energy-conservation programs.
Likewise, the Village Homes development in Sylmar was given an A for building highly energy-efficient homes in a developed area near a Metrolink station.
Despite the criticism of the Belmont Learning Center project, LAUSD is trying to revive the project by solving the environmental concerns, Jim McConnell, head of the facilities division, who blamed former officials who were in charge of the project for the poor planning.
"The lesson of Belmont is there is no substitute for professional competence and expertise,' he said.
As Los Angeles grows outwards, new homes, businesses and highways split and swallow a natural landscape that is considered one of the world's ecological "hot spots,' with an irreplaceable mix of native plants and animals. At least 21 animal species and 34 plants species have gone extinct in recent decades, according to the report.
Southern California would get a D based on past efforts to protect bio-diversity. But researchers gave a C-plus based on state and federal agencies increasing focus on protecting endangered species and bio-diversity. And a new state program to get developers and environmentalists involved in early planning is another good sign, they said.
But Sierra Club Regional Representative Bill Corcoran isn't so optimistic. He points to 22,000- home Newhall Ranch and the 23,000-home Tejon Ranch developments proposed for northern Los Angeles County, which would create "new cities' on what is now open space.
"These are litmus tests for whether Southern California is ready to protect its natural legacy and change the way it's building its urban areas,' he said.