LA’s Groundwater Resources and Threats


A top dream job of mine would be to serve a stint as an early 19th century American explorer. Adventure aside, to a large degree the appeal of such work would be in the opportunity to chart regions of the world still unmapped. Well into the 21st century, it turns out this opportunity still exists. Despite a wealth of data, a number of supervisory agencies, and no shortage of technical expertise, no one has effectively mapped the groundwater resources of Los Angeles. This all stands in spite of the fact that over 7 million people depend on Los Angeles’s groundwater resources for their freshwater needs. Apparently the bureaucratic wilderness of Los Angeles’s water infrastructure is something the likes of Lewis and Clark never had to contend with.

Los Angeles’s ability to thrive as a megalopolis in the arid southwest has always deepened on its ability to access freshwater. This continuous balancing act, however, is threated by many uncertainties, not the least of which is the imposing threat climate change poses on Los Angeles’s freshwater future. Past solutions, such as importing water from elsewhere, are no longer economically, politically, or environmentally feasible. If Los Angeles hopes to continue to prosper, any further fresh water gains will have to come through better management of the resources the region already possesses.

Better utilization of Los Angeles’s groundwater resources has been identified as the best strategy for increasing the region’s water security. The details of this strategy entail the active participation and sacrifice of the public and business communities. The first step, then, is effectively communicating to the public that issues with Los Angeles’s groundwater exists.  The fact that to a large degree Los Angele’s citizens are not aware that the region possesses groundwater, or that   42% of their freshwater comes from these aquifers, speaks to the outreach that needs to be done.

Yet when trying to uncover information about Los Angeles’s groundwater resources one immediately becomes mired in conflicting documents, findings, and bureaucratic reports. This information is in large part made for and by technical experts, and utterly fails at communicating the issues at hand to the general public. The situation is not made any more transparent by the fact that Los Angeles’s groundwater basins are overseen by agencies at every level of local, state, and federal government. To navigate through this complicated nexus of data Los Angeles’s groundwater resources needs a modern day explorer to chart the relevant data and have it mapped.

The first section of maps serves as an introduction to the groundwater resources available in the Los Angeles Basin. The data from these maps was taken from a variety of water agency sources. Using the most up to date and reliable reports, these maps use the relevant data to draw attention to the location and extent of the region’s ten groundwater basins. Furthermore, important characteristics of each basin, such as productivity, size, and unused capacity, are outlined. Through these maps the resources and potential opportunities of Los Angeles’s groundwater basins are made legible. Further, they make the argument visually that the region possesses an important resource that can be utilized to increase Los Angeles’s freshwater security.

While the first section of maps ends by suggesting the potential of Los Angele’s groundwater resources, the second set of maps begins by showing what threats stand in the way.  Los Angeles has a compendium of noxious land uses spread across its landscape, and has long suffered the resulting consequences. Historically, attention has been given to how these uses have degraded air quality, but just as importantly, Los Angeles’s ground water has been severely impacted by pollution.  Using data collected from the California Water Resources Board, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Library of Medicine, Los Angeles’s largest contaminators of groundwater are mapped in juxtaposition with the region’s major groundwater basins. Furthermore, snapshots of individual polluters are mapped to give context into the types of land uses threatening Los Angeles’s groundwater.  Here the visual argument is made that if Los Angeles hopes to make better use of its groundwater resources, steps to undoing the damage done by major polluters must be taken.

As the second set of maps makes clear, Los Angeles has no shortage of threats to its groundwater resources. However, due to economic and political realities, each of these threats cannot be addressed simultaneously. The third section of maps seeks to establish a way to prioritize pollution mitigation. The variables of poverty, groundwater basins, and groundwater pollution are used, and through the maps it is identified where they coincide. The maps make the argument that it is at these locations where mitigation efforts should be prioritized and concentrated.

Together these maps seek to highlight in a legible and effective way the resources, opportunities and threats of Los Angeles’s groundwater basins. The audience is decidedly the public in general, for it is the everyday Angelino that depends on groundwater resources the most, yet, who is most likely to be unaware of groundwater’s existence.  If meaningful policy to improve Los Angele’s water security is to be enacted the public must be effectively sold the idea. These maps, above all, are an attempt to do that, by charting in a clear and transparent matter Los Angeles’s most important, yet misunderstood resource.


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