Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Conserving Water With California Characteristics

The 2016-17 rainy season in California broke a five-year drought.  During those dry years, the state and local governments imposed a number of regulations to conserve water.  For example, new homes could not have lawns, watering outdoor plants was limited to specific hours of the day two days a week, and washing cars with running water was forbidden.  Some restrictions have been eased while others remain in place.  There are no guarantees when it comes to predicting annual rainfall in California.  Better to sustain conservation in case another multi-year drought materializes, especially since the state government shows little inclination to build dams or otherwise increase water storage facilities.

Restrictions on water use were also accompanied with incentives to conserve water.  Homeowners were offered rebates to tear outlawns and put in drought tolerant plans. In Palo Alto, for example, the current rebate is $2.00 per square foot for the first 1,000 square feet and $1.00 per square foot thereafter, up to the project cap per home.  The rebate requires a minimum of 50% plant coverage consisting of low water using plants from the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s Approved Plant List.

There are also rebates to switch from pop-up sprinklers to drip irrigation and irrigation equipment upgrades.

Several years ago, in the midst of the drought, the BTW (beautiful talented wife) and I were tired of dethatching, seeding, fertilizing, weeding, applying insecticides, mowing, watering, and repeating the cycle.  We were also tired of spending money in pursuit of golf greens in our front and back yards, which was impossible to achieve on a twice-weekly watering regimen.

We decided to go whole hog.  We ripped out the front and back lawns, covering the bare soil with tarps and redwood bark.  Instead of saving at least 50% on water consumption, we were going to save 100%, permanently.  (We left the irrigation system in place in case a future homeowner would like to install drought-tolerant landscape.)

I phoned the Santa Clara County Water Department to request the rebate based on the square footage of lawn we removed.  I asked the polite gentlemen who answered if he would take my request to the Water Board.  He did so, but the Board rejected my request.  Getting the rebate requires that 50% of the area be replaced with water-tolerant plants.  The county retains the right to reclaim the rebate if it discovers that a homeowner overplants or replaces approved plants with those not on the list.

I thought my request was reasonable.  Redwood bark is in widespread use as ground cover.  By not replanting, I would be maximizing water conservation compared with homeowners covering 50% of their former lawn area with drought tolerant plants that still need watering.

Oh well!

3 comments :

John Egan said...

'the state government shows little inclination to build dams or otherwise increase water storage facilities.' ...

As a Californian, the author should probably be more conversant in California's long history of water projects before tossing off ignorant one-liners. The first water project in California was introduced in 1919..almost 100 years ago. The Burns-Porter Act, formally known as the California Water Resources Development Bond Act, was placed on the November 1960 ballot.. And thereafter, projects were initiated. Most of our dams were built during this period; Oroville, Shasta, Folsom, etc.

More recently, water bonds were passed to enlarge storage facilities in our existing dams. In my area for example, Folsom dam had its capacit expanded. And of course, there is the ongoing pipeline to move water from the Delta to Socal, which is championed by Brown, but is extremely unpopular with the public.

The problem with more 'more storage' as an answer to drought is two-fold. (1) Aside from expanding existing storage, which I noted we are are already in the process of doing, is that there are no available and viable valleys available to dam. And (2) the bulk of our water is snowfall and snowpack. Not only does it provide our instant needs as snow melts, but over a period of years, it percolates through the soil and replenishes our aquifers in the valleys.

If we can't build more dams, and as we are maxing out our available storage, and as we can't control the weather, exactly how are we supposed to furnish more water to the consumers? And how does that translate to our state isn't inclined to fix the problem?

Gerald Arcuri said...

We went down the same path, trying to be good citizens and save water. We documented every detail of our project and received our rebate... only to learn that it was considered taxable income by the feds. The State of California never bothered to mention this possibility until very late in the rebate program, and even then they equivocated. As for the drought tolerant plant scam, most so-called drought tolerant plants are only drought tolerant if you don't want them to grow. And most of them look like crap after a year. A local college did a lot of this type landscape changes and turned a once-bucolic campus into a weedpatch. Politicsl correctness run amok.

And, I agree with the first commenter. Instead of brow-beating the public and moral-posturing, our elected leaders could have seen this coming and planned for it. It's not as if uncontrolled population growth in California has been a closely-guarded secret. Instead of doing the real work of governing - like making realistic plans to supply the infrastructure needs of this population - Sacramento would rather pass meaningless, sociallly symbolic legislation. What a bunch of frauds...

Brian Villanueva said...

The notion that California hasn't built a damn because there are no potential reservoir sites is absurd. Temperance Flat and Sites are both possibilities. Others could be created if necessary. Topography can be changed -- we do own things called bulldozers.

CA's problem is political, not topographic. We haven't decided whether city dwellers, farmers, or fish should have priority. Our so-called water bond funded environmental reviews for a trans-Delta water tunnel system to deliver more of our water to Southern CA. Paper pushing has ZERO value in the real world, but it's consuming hundreds of millions of dollars. And the Delta tunnels are about moving water around, not storing more of it.

This is nothing new though; go watch the movie Chinatown. CA residents have forgotten an old-West adage: whiskey's for drinking and water's for fighting. That's the reality of life in a near desert.