[LA FEATURE] Running Dry

LA FEATURE

Coverage of California's three-year dry spell, one of the most severe droughts on record

Grappling With Drought, Water Officials Push Southlanders to Reduce Landscape Watering

The push to ditch purely ornamental, "non-functional" lawns began during the last drought of 2009, when MWD began offering a cash incentives, but the campaign has been elevated to a new level

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    NEWSLETTERS

    It may be time to kiss your grass goodbye.
    Responding to water availability concerns that go beyond the current drought, officials with Southern California's dominant water agency are urging Southland residents to replace their lawns with less thirsty alternatives, such as artificial turf or native, drought-tolerant plants.

    The fundamental transformation this would bring about is recognized, but seen as necessary.
    "I think people need to change lifestyles," said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), the wholesale giant that imports 55 perecent of the water Southern California consumes from aqueducts that tap the Colorado River and snowmelt from Northern California.
    The push to ditch purely ornamental, "non-functional" lawns began during the last drought of 2009,
    when MWD began offering a cash incentives.  But the comments Thursday elevated the campaign to a new level.  
    MWD has doubled the cash incentive to $2 per square foot of lawn removed and replaced, said Randy Record, chairman of the MWD Board of Directors.  On top of that, some member municipal agencies will pay an additional incentive.
    There is a need for grass in parks and other recreational areas, Kightlinger said, adding that in many cases they are irrigated with recycled water.  But he said delivering recycled water to individual residential properties would require re-plumbing Southern California, and does not see that as a practical alternative.
    Conservation has become a recurring theme during the series of droughts that have periodically plagued California since the 1970s.
    Earlier campaigns have focused indoors on low-flow shower heads and toilets that require less water to flush.  Those programs have been so successful that only 10 percent of Southern California homes and businesses have yet to be updated, which leaves little room for additional water saving.
    Hence the focus on reducing landscape irrigation, which takes half or more of the water Southern California consumes, and even more during summer heat.
    In January, when Gov. Jerry Brown proclaimed drought conditions (pictured in a timeline below), he called on California as a whole to reduce water use by 20 percent.
    Record and Kightlinger spoke on the occasion of a pre-summer "drought update," but made it clear that even if next winter brings enough precipitation to end the current drought cycle, they hope  Southlanders will continue to conserve.
    "We want a permanent transformation," Kightlinger said. 
    Apart from the drought, environmental concerns have also reduced the amount of water that can be brought south through the San Francisco Bay Delta from the watersheds of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers.
    Some cities, including Los Angeles, have retained water conservation rules mandated during the last drought, including restrictions on outdoor watering.
    This year, MWD does not see a need to expand mandatory conservation measures, thanks
    to the availability of storage reserves, now close to three million acre feet.  But a long hot summer could draw that down by as much as a third, and in that case, there would be reason next year to consider mandatory measures.
    MWD has brought back the "Water Alert Gauge" on its website to keep water users posted on how the reserves are holding up.
    Southern California receives only a portion of the water delivered from the State Water Project via the California Aqueduct.  The majority goes to agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley, where the impact of the drought is being felt more severely, with the fallowing of hundreds of thousands of acres.

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