Water, Water Everywhere: A New Los Angeles Resident Gets to Know the Local Currency Water, Water Everywhere: A New Los Angeles Resident Gets to Know the Local Currency
The Planet

Water, Water Everywhere: A New Los Angeles Resident Gets to Know the Local Currency

by Jessica De Jesus Amelia Gray

March 24, 2012

The hot tub at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs is occupied starting at 8 in the morning. Women sit on pillows to protect their bikini bottoms. One of them ventures down the tub stairs and straddles the pole, letting the current buffet her in a slow circle. "Hey," a tattooed man on the other side calls out to her, lifting his bloody Mary to point. "Hey, good morning," he says. He smiles like he's pissing in an endless stream under the surface.

  • Current Chromium-6 (the "Erin Brockovich" chromium) levels in nearby Hinkley, CA: 1.19 parts per billion
  • New state goals for Chromium-6: 0.02 parts per billion

This story begins, like most stories, as a tributary to a river. The Feather River, specifically; tributary to the Sacramento, winding its way around Yuba, Sutter, and Butte counties, over and through the Sierra Nevada in Northern California, the water in the Feather River used to be warm enough to swim in before they dammed it up to create the Oroville Dam and Reservoir. The dam was finished in 1968 and blessed by Gov. Ronald Reagan to serve the agriculture and people of Southern California.

The people of Oroville feel they were sold a false bill of goods. Campgrounds were not built, resorts did not spring up, tourism dollars did not emerge. What's more, the water is far too cold for even a summertime swim. In order to maintain artificial fish hatchery areas, frigid water is drawn from the bottom of the reservoir to feed into the river. Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey categorizes the water of the Feather River as "colder than a well-digger’s ass."

I was born in Tucson, Arizona and grew up drinking groundwater from the Santa Cruz River Basin, water so clean that it felt like a resource as endless as the air itself. Tucsonans are as proud of their golf courses as they are of their water regulations. My parents still live there. On one trip home, I found that the local paper had printed a list of top water abusers in town. In the '90s, residents turned up their noses at the Central Arizona Project sludge that flowed through their taps. CAP water, originating in Lake Havasu City, travels in a massive aqueduct 336 miles to Tucson, uncovered from its source because such a measure would have quadrupled costs. Today, residential customers are largely dependent on the same wellfields they've always used.

At a house party in Silver Lake, I got tired of my wine and dumped it down the drain, rinsing the mug out before filling it with tap water. One of the hosts touched my wrist. "Don't drink that," he said, offering instead the filtered jug on the counter. From source to filter, this water has traveled from as far as Oroville, blended on its way with groundwater, Mono Lake and the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the Haiwee Resevoir and the Second Los Angeles Aqueduct, and a handful of other sources. You could say that this aquatic blend mirrors the mixing of cultures, making it all distinctly L.A. You could also say that the anonymous water emerges from its thankless source to quench a greedy and growing population.

At The Bazaar, the restaurant at the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills, you may pair your watermelon nigiri with your choice from the water menu. Highlights include $11 for 500ml of Wattwiller still ("Its pedigree dates back to Roman times...") and $12 for a sparkling Spanish Vichy Catalán ("There are no missing minerals or salts in Vichy."). The list is dominated by Europeans, with the exception of Walnut Grove Spring water from Southern Indiana. "The Walnut Grove Spring formation is theorized by professional geologists to be 15,000+ years old," reads the menu.

  • Transportation of spring water from Fiji: 8900km by cargo ship (Fiji to Long Beach)
  • Transportation of spring water from France: 600km by heavy truck (Evian to Le Havre), 5670km by cargo ship (Le Havre to New York), 3950km by rail (New York to Los Angeles)


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Water, Water Everywhere: A New Los Angeles Resident Gets to Know the Local Currency