- Greggory Moore
Whether you write it off to conspicuous consumerism, favoring style over substance, or blatant disregard for environmental constrictions, Southern California pays a heavy cost for its vast acreage of European-style, non-native grass.
How heavy? According to the Long Beach Water Department…
• 50% of all residential water use in Long Beach goes toward landscape irrigation.
• Annually Long Beach uses approximately 15 times more water for irrigating lawns than it receives in rainfall.
• 20% of California’s total energy use is water-related.
• 27% of Southern California’s water is imported from Northern California.
Such realities, along with the fact that California’s population is on the rise (the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that California now has roughly a million more residents than it did in 2010), means that water conservation becomes ever more important.
One way that the City of Long Beach is responding is its Lawn-to-Garden program, which offers homeowners and homeowners’ associations (HOAs) $3 per sq. ft. in reimbursements—up to $3,000 total—for costs related to converting lawns into native, drought-resistant flora. And considering that over 3,000 types of plant fit the conversion specifications, it’s not like we’re talking about only cacti and succulents.
To date approximately 900 homes have benefitted from such conversions, which is a good start.
But is the City doing enough? That seems an obvious question when you consider that, according to public records, the City owns 1,008 acres of parkland, only four acres of which support native flora, with plans in the works to convert only an additional seven acres.
That leaves 997 acres of City-owned non-native flora. And while not all of this is suitable for conversion, presumably much of it is. How much? Random Lengths News was referred to Ramon Arevalo, bureau manager for Maintenance Operations at the Department of Parks, Recreation & Marine, but Arevalo did not respond to RLn‘s repeated requests for this information.
In an initial conversation Arevalo gave the City high marks for its work in this area, noting that his division’s share of the FY2014 is unchanged from FY2013, “which is a great thing for us.”
Arevalo says much of his division’s current focus is on water audits, which will help determine which areas need more efficient sprinkler heads, which areas should be removed from the water schedule entirely, etc., changes he says have already paid big dividends, with water use over the last year being reduced from 1,013,000 ccf to 770,000 ccf.
“And that’s adding additional parks and stuff,” he says. “So we’ve been doing our job as far as we can to reduce water use in the city. […] We’ve done a lot of work [along these lines], such as in Recreation Park. But additional work is needed in many of our parks. It all has to do with identifying more and more funding—which the City has been phenomenal in giving us and helping us out.”
But there is much more work to be done.
“If we as a city and we as a state don’t continue looking at how we can become less dependent on water, we’re going to be in trouble,” says Arevalo. “So we’re going to do everything we can to do that.”
As if the environmental considerations were not enough, the State of California has provided cities with an extra financial incentive to decrease water usage. The Water Conservation Act of 2009 mandates that every city that does not decrease its water usage by 20 percent* by 2020 will lose its eligibility to receive State grant funding and loans.
Closer to home, in 2014 Long Beach residents will experience a 4% increase in water rates over this year.
“[Water] is an expensive commodity, and we know that,” Arevalo says. “And it’s become more and more of an issue for us—not just the expense, but how we can conserve this valuable asset. Because we’re in a desert. I think we’re all finally realizing that.”
(*Reduced 20% from what is a bit tricky to determine, but for Long Beach it’s the yearly average between 1996 and 2005. According to the Water Department’s Joyce Barkley, Long Beach is on pace to meet its goal.)