INTERVIEW WITH LIZ CROSSON
Liz Crosson joined Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Sustainability Team as Water Policy Advisor after serving as the Executive Director of Los Angeles Waterkeeper for five years. Liz led Waterkeeper’s efforts to protect, conserve and restore Los Angeles’ waterways through advocacy, community education and litigation. She previously worked with Lawyers for Clean Water, Inc. where she represented non-profit organizations in water pollution enforcement actions. She has a J.D. from Lewis & Clark Law School with an emphasis in environmental law. Liz became Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer in the Office of LA Mayor Garcetti in 2017, and then Director of Infrastructure in 2018.
- You came from an NGO background, joining LA Mayor Garcetti’s office in 2015. What inspired you to make that switch from NGO to governmental position?
Well, it was in the middle of a historic drought and I’d been working on water conservation and efficiency issues, working closely with the City and other agencies on their local water goals. And I was really excited about what was happening in Mayor Garcetti’s administration. At the time he had set a very bold and ambitious sustainability plan that had some important targets for water and he decided to hire his first water policy advisor to implement the sustainability plan. And it was just really exciting and perfect timing to embark on a new challenge and to challenge myself and learn how to be an effective advocate within the government sector which was a place I had never worked before.
- What have been the challenges and highlights of taking that position for the last 4 years?
Some of the highlights are definitely working with the amazing, smart, motivated people, both in the Mayor’s office and also the City at large, to implement the Mayor’s vision for sustainability. In particular in the water sector, as I said, the Mayor has set some bold goals for getting to, now, 70% local water by 2035. When I was here we had set what I thought was an ambitious goal which was 50% local water. So what’s been a highlight is that everybody here continues to push themselves to really see what is possible and make some commitments to a future that really makes LA a more resilient and sustainable place …. So that’s been really exciting. On challenges, you know, it’s complicated. It’s a really big city, it’s obviously the second largest in the country. It includes the Mayor’s office and 15 council districts and over 35 different city departments. So to get things done can take a lot of coordination and relationship-building. That’s been a challenging part. It’s also a fulfilling part of the job to figure out how to navigate that and work with so many different people.
- With the target of 70% self sufficiency in water – how is that in relation to Payahuunadu/Owens Valley and the amount of water that comes from there? There’s often not clarity around what is classed as imported water.
Well we have absolute clarity on that. The Owens Valley water is imported water so when I say 70% local water that means 70% local. That doesn’t include the Owens Valley. We are looking at our own ground-water remediation and recycled water and storm water capture as well as reducing demand overall.
- As Director of Infrastructure what do you feel are the priorities in making LA climate resilient? And what is the initial progress of measure W that was passed late last year?
For LA to really be climate resilient I do think reaching our local water goals is a key component. We know that the infrastructure that we have to import water into LA, that has long been the practice, crosses fault lines. So not only is it climate vulnerable but it’s also vulnerable to earthquakes. I think, as we’ve seen the on-going drought conditions and the decrease in predictability when it comes to snow fall and the allocation of the Colorado river, one of the most important things we can do in LA is increase our self-sufficiency when it comes to local water supply. Doing things like prioritizing or re-mediating our groundwater basins which are an incredible asset to this city of LA. And the board of supervisors, just last week, approved the next step of implementation for that measure. So we are moving forward to develop projects to be competitive for funds as well as to develop projects that will happen in LA with our local LA dollars for Measure W. There is a lot of momentum right now especially on storm water capture. We have a huge potential here in LA, again, because of the ground water infrastructure that we have in place.
- Do you agree with Andy Lipkis’s vision of LA as being water self-sufficient? And how do you see LA City and LADWP approaching this? And what support does LADWP need to really make this a necessity.
DWP is intimately involved in all the things I’ve mentioned. So they continue to offer rebates for people to make real changes in the ways they live, on a day to day basis, in water conservation and efficiency. That’s still going to be a huge part. DWP goes above and beyond on some of their rebates. For example on washing machines, instead of just offering a minimal amount for people to get a more efficient washing machine, they actually look at the market and look at how much they should incentivize people so as to actually make up the difference between buying a non-efficient and an efficient washing machine. I think you get $400 against a washing machine from DWP which is phenomenal. So they are really making that investment to help reduce the demand for the city overall but also to help their customers to be more efficient and cost-effective. And then they are also making the big infrastructure investments as I mentioned before – ground water remediation, storm water capture and water re-use – so that we can treat water and inject it in groundwater to then use later for drinking water. DWP has really embraced the Mayor’s objectives and is already on the path of implementation.
- Do you think that actions like Walking Water can and do have an impact?
Definitely. I think it’s critical to get people out and doing things and talking to public officials and public officials talking to community members and interested people to hear all of the different perspectives on why something like local water is important to people. Everyone has a different perspective, different interests and different reasons for being supportive of it. Some are interested in climate resilience. Some are interested in saving money and paying their bills. Some of them are interested in the impact we are having globally as far as pumping water from far away places as opposed to more passive methods like capturing here. Everybody has so many different perspectives and I think it’s really important to bring people together through events like Walking Water – to hear that and have those meaningful discussions.
- I’m here in Payhuunadu right now and knowing how much of the water and land is owned and controlled by LA it can feel like a colony of LA. What are the steps that Mayor Garcetti is taking to involve the Paiute tribes and local communities in what happens here and do you foresee there ever being an equitable decision-making process? What are the blocks to that happening?
Well, you know, Mayor Garcetti did visit some of the folks in Owens Valley and has directed DWP to work closely with the tribes and communities there. I think he has certainly tried to transform the relationship, from what I know in the past has been more antagonistic, to a more cooperative one today. Not to say there are not still challenges but I think of the up-most importance to the Mayor is that we continue to have open communication and we make ourselves available to hear concerns and suggestions and that we just work as closely together as possible. A successful and happy Owens Valley is critical to a successful and happy LA. We are tied and while some folks may regret that, that is the reality of today. So I think it’s our priority to make that the most effective and symbiotic relationship as possible.
- Do you foresee that representatives of the tribe could be part of that decision-making process?
Yeh, I think I’m definitely open to hearing about suggestions about that decision-making process and improvements for it.
- In relation to Mayor Garcetti’s vision and goal for LA. How will LA’s Green New Deal impact the relationship between LA and Payahuunadu?
Well I don’t know. But I do know that it is definitely Mayor Garcetti’s priority to create a more symbiotic and positive relationship and I think that the better we are as actors in LA and becoming more efficient and dependent on local resources, the less impact LA will have on other places like the Owens Valley.