Unless you’ve been living in the middle of the Silver Lake Reservoir, you might have noticed that California is in the midst of a historic drought. You’re probably making sure to turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth, and are politely asking for water when you go out to eat, since it’s not always complimentary anymore. But truthfully, restaurants are getting squeezed particularly badly in the water crisis already, well beyond the bottle of tap water they set down at your table. And if Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposed goals to further limit water usage kicks into effect early next year, the results for restaurants are particularly disastrous.
Ominously titled Executive Directive #5 (though Garcetti’s hashtag-laced site also gleefully uses the headline #DroughtHack as well), the plan is to create a "water-wise" city by 2017, curbing L.A.’s 130 gallons per capita, per day consumption by some 20%. There are the usual aesthetic changes, of course, like pushes for rainwater capture, greywater reuse and the introduction of drought-resistant landscaping, but most worrisome is the potentially enormous increase in water metering and import levels. Los Angeles ships in plenty of outside water to supply the city’s many restaurants and residents, and a strong uptick in water bill costs can’t stay hidden inside the already slim margins of a restaurant menu forever.
For restaurateurs lucky enough to own the building they serve in, real estate code adjustments are another potential source of strain in the coming months under Garcetti’s aggressive, though likely necessary, directive. If everything from increased water capture to mandatory low-flow (or no-flow) toilets become mandatory, plenty of small cafes and eateries will immediately start to feel the squeeze.
The Central Valley has been feeling that same pressure for years, of course, as the cry for responsible water management has only grown louder. On Thursday, November 6, the heralded Santa Monica Farmers Market will host a symposium at the Santa Monica Public Library to discuss just this issue, with a big-picture look at California’s ongoing drought through the eyes of the farmers and water use experts who face the realities of a bone-dry state every day.
For the end consumer, noticeable changes may come sooner than later, as responsive restaurants revamp menus, rethink cooking strategies and consider their cost of doing business. Soon enough, Zach Pollack’s controversial $1.50 water surcharge at Alimento may not be the outlier that diners grumble about as they otherwise enjoy their meal — it could become L.A.’s new industry standard.