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Gary Horton: Sensibly conserve water now

Posted: August 6, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 6, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Author’s note: In writing this week’s column, let me disclose that I own a large regional landscape firm and am knowledgeable in both water conservation and landscape water requirements. Also important is that our firm does not perform public landscape construction or maintenance for the city of Santa Clarita or elsewhere.

Drought conditions are flooding the news around us. In January, Gov. Brown declared a state of emergency as California reached draught conditions not seen in 100 years.

In May, the Sierra Nevada snow pack was recorded at only 18 percent of “normal,” news showing no relief to come in this year.

Cal Fire, the state fire department, has already hired 125 more firefighters knowing fully where all this is heading going into late summer.

Low lakes, dry mountains, more fires, less water — and a startling need to conserve what little we’ve got left, now.

We 38 million Californians depending on state water delivery systems really do need to work together — to either make it through the drought to when more water comes, or to permanently change our water usage for the “new normal” in California’s diminishing Water World.

To our credit, most Californians have already made significant adjustments over the past decade. We’ve switched to water-efficient shower heads and faucets.

We’ve adopted drip irrigation for much of our landscape. Many have “smart” controllers that reduce sprinkler use during cool and wet weather.

We’ve even got waterless urinals, faucets that only run when they “see” your hands, and low-flow toilets (that often infuriatingly don’t quite do the job the first flip of the lever.)

And now artificial turf, once only for use in Astrodomes, is making its way into mainstream homeowner yards. Some day we’ll all be vacuuming our lawns. ...

Californians have earnestly tried. But the rain inches don’t lie and drought conditions are increasing even as you and I, and businesses and farms, have worked to adapt.

It’s been a race to the last drop, and we’re still running behind nature’s dry prerogative.

Understandably, we hear frantic calls for immediate water reduction — some are radical demands for stringent water rationing, some more thoughtful “percent consumption reduction” rules, and some, clumsy “even-odd address” or twice weekly watering — regardless of actual ability to comply or needs of the landscape assets.

Sooner or later, the SCV must adopt conservation policies. So far, community leadership has been thoughtfully floating ideas.

Valencia Water has a beneficial website allowing you to measure your water usage vs. prior years and providing guidance toward lowering your own usage 20 percent or more.

What’s most important to recognize during this crisis is that we actually have three important assets to preserve.

While conserving water, we also need to save our landscape investments and preserve our quality of life.

Our response to water conservation must not be knee-jerk restrictions mandated by forces that may not care about the garden city we’ve created.

We have our private and public landscape investments to protect. So any action must be extremely thoughtful, comprehensive, and practicable.

I estimate that our SCV landscape districts comprise some $250,000,000 to $400,000,000 worth of landscaping in current replacement costs.

Add to this two to three billion dollars of private SCV yard landscaping — that’s billion with a “b” — and you see, collectively, we have an absolutely huge asset to protect.

It is simply not an acceptable solution to degrade public and private spaces or risk loss to our huge landscape investment through quick-fix water rationing.

Plainly, not all landscapes require the same water usage, and even on individual yards, various plantings require differing water schedules.

We must be flexible. One plan of conservation does not fit all sizes.

Many owners, agencies, and developers have already cut back considerable use through point-to-point sprinklers, drip irrigation and smart controllers.

Should these thoughtful water users be required to cut back further while others pour water down gutters and drains?

Our conservation efforts must be rifle-focused at viable targets, not shotgunned at any and all living things — including you.

Plainly, the “even-odd” and limited-day watering ideas being floated aren’t correct answers as these “one size” policies will permanently degrade our valuable landscaping assets and lower our quality of life.

Conversely, year over year reduction plans, assistance for private water conservation investment, and public and HOA investment reducing high water usage landscapes like excessive turf and large overhead watering slopes — these can easily yield 20 percent savings in the SCV’s water use.

Let’s focus specifically on the targets with greatest capacity for water savings, rather than willy-nilly, mindless, across-the-board mandated cuts.

With sustained governmental, water agency, and private focus, we can achieve substantial results fairly rapidly, without killing our yards and streetscapes and parks because someone decided every last one of us can only water once or twice a week.

These are yet so many smart steps available to save big time water while preserving our gardens, our quality of life, and our landscape investment.

SCV is a beautiful garden city where our gardens and landscape are a big reason we’re here. Let’s insist that our upcoming local water conservation policies reflect these very important realities.

Just say “no” to killing our gardens. Say “yes” to smart, “win-win” choices for water conservation.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesday in The Signal.



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