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Water deficit plagues city, but not the L.A. River

Image Above: Most of the Los Angeles River's flow these days consists of reclaimed water dumped by city treatment plants. That has provided a boon for shorebirds downstream during what has been the driest year on record in Los Angeles. Here, treated effluent from the L.A.-Glendale water treatment plant flows into the river near Griffith Park.

California, USA

This is the driest year on record in Los Angeles, yet the city's namesake river is defying nature with an abundant stream of water, which, miles to the south, has created a rare oceanside sanctuary for thousands of shorebirds.

The source of this water: the bountiful wastewater of a parched city.

Most Los Angeles River water is so-called recycled water, highly treated wastewater from upstream treatment plants that has no other place to go.

Although recycled water can be used for irrigation and to replenish underground aquifers, there are no pipes to transport it to far-off parks and golf courses.

The city uses the recycled water for only 1% of its irrigation needs. The vast majority from two Valley plants ends up in the river.

Homeowners with lush, overwatered lawns and squeaky-clean cars feed the flow. So do emerald-green golf courses fed with drinkable rather than recycled water.

Experts estimate that in addition to recycled water, about 32% of the river's flow is fed by urban runoff and 4% is natural groundwater.

With so much water, the river's lower reaches in Compton, Paramount and Long Beach have become a mecca for native and migratory shorebirds that once frequented the region's coastal salt marshes. Over time, 95% of those marshes have been filled or paved over, and the man-made flow of the river has emerged as an unlikely oasis for the birds.

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