SoCal’s Water Doctor Champions Climate Resilience and Self-reliance

socal s water doctor champions climate resilience and self reliance.jpg Science

Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, is tasked with the monumental responsibility of ensuring water for 19 million people amid a rapidly changing climate. As the head of the nation’s largest wholesale supplier of drinking water, Hagekhalil is sounding the alarm that the three existing aqueducts on which the region heavily relies – the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the Colorado River Aqueduct, and the California Aqueduct – will no longer be sufficient in the face of intensifying climate extremes.

Hagekhalil’s ambitious vision for Southern California’s water future revolves around creating a metaphorical "fourth aqueduct," a series of projects designed not to draw water from distant sources, but to harness local water supplies. His plan involves a shift towards recycling more wastewater, capturing stormwater, cleaning up contaminated groundwater, and designing new infrastructure to nimbly transport and store water. This adaptation strategy aims to prepare Southern California for a future punctuated by hotter and drier times, as global warming continues to undermine the region’s water lifelines.

Southern California’s "Fourth Aqueduct": A Vision for Climate Adaptation

For Adel Hagekhalil, the general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the future of water in the region goes beyond the three aqueducts that have traditionally supplied water from hundreds of miles away. With climate change disrupting the water cycle, Hagekhalil believes that these aqueducts will not be sufficient for the future.

Meeting the Challenge of Climate Change

In Hagekhalil’s vision, Southern California urgently needs to supplement its water resources with a "fourth aqueduct." However, this would not be another concrete structure drawing water from distant sources, but an array of local projects that can cope with the intensifying extremes of a warming world.

"We’re adapting," Hagekhalil told employees at a water treatment plant recently. This means preparing for hotter and drier times, as climate change continues to undermine the region’s water resources.

Innovating for a Resilient Future

To adapt effectively, Hagekhalil argues, Southern California will need to recycle more wastewater, capture stormwater, clean up contaminated groundwater, and design infrastructure that can transport and store water more efficiently. Such a strategy would make the most of wet years like the current one, preparing for the longer and more severe droughts expected in the future.

However, Hagekhalil’s ambitious goals could be hampered by the political dynamics of the MWD’s 38-member board, which has a history of resisting change. Nonetheless, Hagekhalil, who manages over 1,900 employees and more than $2.2 billion in annual spending, has a reputation as a diplomatic manager unafraid of challenging tasks.

A New Ethic of Climate Adaptation

Hagekhalil believes that the current water challenges in California call for innovative solutions on par with the visionary works of William Mulholland, who oversaw the construction of the aqueduct that enabled the rise of Los Angeles over a century ago. But unlike Mulholland’s time, the new challenges require a new ethic, one that is focused on developing solutions to withstand climate change.

Hagekhalil is optimistic about the opportunity to reshape the future and build the infrastructure for the next hundred years. "Time is not on our side. We cannot act with anything less than urgency," he asserts.

My Takeaway

Hagekhalil’s vision for Southern California presents a compelling model for how regions around the world could adapt to the realities of climate change. His focus on local water resources and innovative infrastructure suggests a shift from traditional water supply strategies towards more resilient and sustainable methods. As the world grapples with the escalating impacts of climate change, leaders like Hagekhalil are demonstrating the kind of forward-thinking adaptability that will be essential for our collective future.

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