Climate change: The cost of doing nothing is too great

During a recent panel discussion during the WEX Global event in Porto, Portugal, Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of L.A.’s Bureau of Streets, made a comment that resonated with me. He said, “The cost of doing nothing about climate change is too great.”

Angela Godwin interviews Adel Hagekhalil during WEX Global 2019.
Angela Godwin interviews Adel Hagekhalil during WEX Global 2019.

During a recent panel discussion at the WEX Global event in Porto, Portugal, Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of L.A.’s Bureau of Streets, made a comment that resonated with me. He said, “The cost of doing nothing about climate change is too great.” I later asked him if he could elaborate.

“We all know that climate is changing,” he said. “We’re seeing longer droughts, higher temperatures, and more floods.” The City of Los Angeles, he noted, projects that between 2040 and 2060, the number of days that will see temperatures above 95˚F will triple. “So that means our quality of life will change; we’ll have to adapt. We’re going to have droughts, we’re going to have heavy rains, we’re going to have flooding.”

The cost of the damage resulting from these phenomena is significant. “What we want to do is invest now in resiliency so we can manage that. Invest now, because the cost of not investing could be a lot more than the cost of taking care of it now.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has championed making L.A. sustainable and resilient, Hagekhalil said, by investing in the future and leading the way in adapting to climate change. With the completion of the One Water L.A. plan, the city has developed a comprehensive and ambitious roadmap for sustainable water management.

In his previous role with the Bureau of Sanitation, Hagekhalil contributed to the development of the plan, working within his agency and collaborating with others to break down silos and engage the community. “We basically built on bringing things together because water is ‘one water’ and that concept is really how we’re going to manage water, whether it’s stormwater, wastewater, or recycled water. And if we don’t connect the dots, drops and hearts, we cannot make it work.”

Among the city’s initiatives is a focus on augmenting the local water supply with recycled water. To that end, Mayor Garcetti announced in February that L.A.’s largest wastewater treatment plant, Hyperion, will recycle 100 percent of its wastewater by 2035, up from about 27 percent today.

Stormwater capture is another area of focus. “We’re going to double the amount of stormwater we are capturing. We’re going to infiltrate more stormwater, green the city, and address flooding by capturing stormwater upstream in the system and also replenishing the groundwater to have it for reuse,” said Hagekhalil.

In addition to the water supply benefits, investment in stormwater capture has a tangible economic payback. “We’ve done some analysis and the research we’ve done [shows that] if you invest in stormwater capture, and if you do it the right way, every dollar you invest [yields] a $20 return on investment.”

Hagekhalil noted one recent project that saw a gravel pit converted into a wetlands park in an area of the city that experienced frequent flooding. Here, stormwater is collected, treated, and returned to the ground for reuse in the San Fernando Valley aquifer — and the park also serves as a beautiful amenity for the community.

“[You’re] addressing water quality, you’re addressing water supply, you’re addressing flooding, and you’re improving the quality of life in the community,” said Hagekhalil. “To me, that’s what we’re looking for and the return on investment is huge.” WW

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