Notes from Year 4 of the California drought …
Facing the worst drought in Burnt Golden State history and separate actions recently by Gov. Jerry Brown and provider the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to conserve water up to 25 percent, the Board of Directors of the Fountain Valley-based Municipal Water District of Orange County just voted to reduce imported water use throughout the county by roughly 15 percent July 1 through June 30, 2016, unless drought conditions improve.
The MWDOC explains the county has already reduced consumption by nearly 10 percent since 2013, so a 15 percent cut would complement Brown's April 1 call for an average 25 percent reduction in statewide water use. Each of the MWDOC's 28 member agencies will be given specific water use reduction targets aimed at meeting the overall OC goal, so how much rates go up or which different strategies will be used to obtain/conserve water will vary from agency to agency. No changes will be required of agencies that meet the goals, but those that fail could see water surcharges double or triple. The allocations of water to each agency has already been reduced. The MWDOC encourages customers to check with their local water agency for current restrictions via www.mwdoc.com/about/member-agencies.
One idea floated (see what I did there?) to reduce water consumption is tiered pricing that has heavy users paying more per unit of water than those who stay under set levels. But a group of San Juan Capistrano residents sued the city on grounds that tiered water-rate structures violate state law. A lower court ruled in the ratepayers' favor and an appellate decision is expected soon. The outcome could handcuff the at least two-thirds of California providers that use some form of tiered rates.
Garden Grove is moving from voluntary to mandatory conservation that limits lawn watering, landscape irrigation and filling or refilling of swimming pools to designated days, before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m. Watering will be permitted any day if a water shut-off nozzle or drip irrigation system is used. Washing of vehicles will also be limited to designated days, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Commercial car washes are exempt.) The city already shut off water at all medians with turf and will begin replacing it with drought tolerant plants and high-efficiency irrigation systems.
After the average Newport Beach resident was outed for having used 124 gallons of water a day since July compared with 100 gallons a day used by those in nearby beach communities, city officials are seeking new authority to issue fines. Newps already sends out warnings, limits lawn watering to four times a week and prohibits residents from refilling their pools more than one foot a week.
The San Clemente City Council is scheduling public hearings to also consider aggressive action to reduce water usage. Limiting lawn watering days and turf installation locations as well as requiring quicker switches to recycled water and drought tolerant landscaping in new developments are among the strategies being considered.
Anaheim-based Synthetic Grass Warehouse, which bills itself as the nation's largest synthetic grass distributor, is trying to capitalize on the drought by calling on Gov. Brown to sign a law that allows and encourages artificial turf everywhere. Victor Lanfranco, the company's co-founder, explains there would be no drought if everyone switched o synthetic lawns, but many Californians can't because their homeowner associations forbid fake turf. "This is where we need our governor to step in," says Lanfranco.
Local leaders gathered Wednesday morning at the Hotel Fullerton, which has replaced its sprawling grass greenbelts with synthetic turf that will reportedly save about 1.3 million gallons of water and $50,000 in annual water and maintenance costs. Invitees to the unveiling included actor Edward James Olmos, Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, Fullerton City Council members, Orange County Water District officials and representatives of Five Star Turf Commercial, an Orange-based installer of artificial turf.
The drought is partly being blamed on climate change, which is also now the culprit in hundreds of reports of starving sea lions clinging to life on Southern California beaches. Marine mammal rescue centers in the Golden State have received more than 1,800 such reports, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researchers say to expect more if climate-change patterns don't, well, change. Warmer water off the West Coast is leaving less food for sea lions and other species, according to a recent NOAA report that points to unusually high and unprecedented air and water temperatures over the past year. An El Niño event that NOAA has called for 2015 means West Coast waters won't be cooling for at least another year.