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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.



BrianBaker: Posted: August 6, 2014 9:22 a.m.

Much to my surprise, I find myself agreeing with Horton on something.

Here's a problem with the "emergency plan" as proposed. There are some of us who have already been practicing sound water conservation practices as a matter of course. How are we supposed to meet the arbitrarily mandated goal of further reducing our usage by another 20%?

On your monthly bill from Valencia Water Company there's a pictograph of your entire year's water usage, including a graph line of your monthly allocation. Using myself as an example, I already use less than my allocation, by a very safe margin.

I have absolutely no idea what I can possibly do to cut my usage by another 20%.

17trillion: Posted: August 6, 2014 11:17 a.m.

I could care less about the lack of water. I'll use whatever I want, whenever I want. If the morons who run this state and elect it's leaders see fit to spend 70 billion on a stupid train instead of using some/all of that money on water projects, then screw you! Furthermore, we literally flush billions of gallons into the ocean to save a bait fish that doesn't need saving, so screw you! I'm going to needlessly water my lawn as soon as I get home and take a 20 minute shower. God, I sound like Ricketzz.....

chefgirl358: Posted: August 6, 2014 11:36 a.m.

17, lol, I wouldn't go THAT far...that you sound like Ricketzz I mean.

My household has purposely used copious amounts of water for many years, let the hose run while washing cars, hosing down patios and driveways, letting water run while we do dishes and brush teeth, etc. We did this knowing that one day we would be here, at a critical point of drought and that we could easily cut our consumption substantially without really affecting our quality of life at all. I know a lot of people will probably have a fit when they read this, but that's what we chose to do and we're happy with that choice. Water here is of abysmal quality and is dirt cheap. You want people to conserve water, raise the rates and give them allotments instead (not what I want to see happen at all).

Additionally, Nitesho had a great point recently in another posting about how nobody should be able to tell you how to use your water since it's a purchased commodity. If you want people to conserve better, give them an allotment instead, not that I'm a fan of that idea, but it would work. Here's the thing...I pay for water and therefore I will use as much as I want to pay for, and I'll use it how I see fit and so will everyone else. It doesn't solve the issue at hand.

As to 17's point, I've said it a hundred times and now more than ever I think that as long as there are emerald green golf courses, swimming pools brimming with water everywhere, large scale housing developments being built (Fort Tejon and Newhall Ranch anyone??), center medians full of plants WITHOUT smart sprinklers being installed all over town, shopping centers and developments (Bridgeport marketplace AND housing development) with huge water features and/or LAKES, the Creekside post office flooding the entire area on a daily basis for as many years as I can remember with their sprinklers that run non-stop, and on and on and on, I just don't see how any government entity can have the gall to order regular citizens to cut back when THEY are the worst offenders of all. Instead of wasting billions of dollars on stupid trains to nowhere, they should be securing the Delta (against earthquakes or disasters), and creating decent water catchment and desalinization systems. The elephant in the room is that there are TOO many people! And also that our (residents) water consumption is the smallest percentage of water usage, we are being targeted out of pure political bs - as usual - to point fingers AWAY from the real problems.

17trillion: Posted: August 6, 2014 12:03 p.m.

Again with the golf courses? a nice way of course! :) By the way, mine's not so emerald green these days.

chefgirl358: Posted: August 6, 2014 12:48 p.m.

17, sorry, it's nothing personal:) It's impossible to overlook them in relation to this issue though.

rosekitten: Posted: August 6, 2014 1:29 p.m.

Thank you Gary Horton, for your thoughtful, intelligent perspective on the drought and corresponding water usage. I hope the water companies have read your article and understand it.

jdebree: Posted: August 6, 2014 2:59 p.m.

Great article.

17trillion: Posted: August 7, 2014 11:39 a.m.

Oh yes, so informative and so thoughtful. It makes me want to spend my entire day thinking of creative ways to save our precious resource.

Phenics: Posted: August 9, 2014 11:31 a.m.

Excellent article. Very well done. My favorite statement:Let’s focus specifically on the targets with greatest capacity for water savings, rather than willy-nilly, mindless, across-the-board mandated cuts.

As I mention each time I have an opportunity; how about a moratorium on new housing developments? Each family that fills those houses will use far more water than my garden. Don't build if we can't provide.

Allan_Cameron: Posted: August 10, 2014 9:26 p.m.

LA Times had an article several weeks ago that needs action follow through. North of Sacramento and the Delta, there are farmers who have an old "right" to take all the water they want, and farm what they want.

What do they farm?

Rice and alfalfa.

Where do they sell the rice?


They use "their" water rights with "flood irrigation" of their rice fields. This method of irrigation allows a huge percentage of the water to be lost though evaporation.

How much water have these farmers been extracting from California Rivers BEFORE those rivers even enter the Sacramento Delta?

2.5 million acre feet this past year, even during this record drought.

Just to place this in some perspective, the total amount of water from the State Water project and other sources that the Castaic Lake Water Agency has a theoretical right to in a given year is about 110,000 acre feet. CLWA has NEVER, ever actually delivered even half of this amount to Santa Clarita Valley customers in a given year.

2.5 million acre feet of water is enough to supply the entire City of Los Angeles, at consumption levels that pre-date conservation measures, for an entire year.

These farmers must stop exporting California water, found in rice going to China, before any other measures are imposed on the rest of the Citizens of California.

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