The energy and mass balance of Los Angeles County

We conducted an urban “metabolic” study of inputs and outputs of food, water, energy, and pollutants from Los Angeles County, USA. This region has been the subject of recent debate about the nature of population density and distribution as it relates to urban form and associated environmental impacts. We found that with the exception of food imports and wastewater outputs, inputs of resources and outputs of pollutants generally declined on a per capita basis from 1990 to 2000. Reductions likely reflected a combination of changes in public policy, improvements in technology and public infrastructure, and impacts of increases in population density. However, in comparison to other municipalities and urban regions, resource consumption per capita was still relatively high in some categories, particularly inputs of water and transportation energy. Per capita greenhouse gas emissions were lower in Los Angeles County than for the average of the USA as a whole but higher than previous analyses of urban areas internationally, largely due to comparatively high emissions from the transportation sector. Wastewater discharge accounted for less than 40% of water inputs excluding precipitation; however the partitioning of water outputs through other potential losses, specifically evapotranspiration, runoff, and groundwater recharge, remains highly uncertain. We suggest that more detailed information about water losses will greatly improve future mass and energy accounting for analyses of urban environmental sustainability in this semi-arid region.

Associated space

Los Angeles