Girding the grid for 20% water savings

Posted on | January 18, 2014 | 1 Comment

LA-grid-sample-mid-city-Los-Angeles-2The Governor has issued a drought proclamation in which he has called on all Californians for a 20% reduction of their water use. This sounds almost reasonable, except as reservoirs are headed toward empty many homeowners are still under water financially. So asking the public to spend thousands on garden designers, native plants, rain harvesting systems and front-loading washing machines is untenable. Even taking advantage of soon-to-be juicy rebates may be beyond the common purse. Rebates are discounts, not giveaways.

The good news? This collision of drought and hard times may finally break LA’s insistence on year-round green lawns. The most cash-strapped householder should be able to find 20% savings if we could only adjust what we expect from urban landscaping. In that spirit, here follows a working man’s and woman’s guide to doing their part affordably to save California’s water supply.

1. If you have lawn that your landlord won’t allow you to remove, or you simply can’t afford to swop out, gradually over the next months leading into summer, switch your watering regimen from short frequent watering of eight minutes three times a week (or 96 minutes per month) to longer, infrequent soakings. Eventually, you should be watering the lawn no more than twice a month late at night or early in the morning for 30 minutes (or 60 minutes per month). You have a 30% savings of your lawn watering budget right there, which could be as much as 15% of your water bill. You will also be leaching salt from the soil with deeper waterings. If city code, such as this ill-conceived one for the City of Los Angeles, forbids this, flout it. Householders certainly shouldn’t draw fire if we use less water more efficiently.

2. If lawn becomes gold, that’s natural. It’s perpetually green lawn that is unnatural. Your lawn is not dead.

3. Let the grass grow to twice the short, conventional height. Its denser mass will help reduce evaporation. Mow it no more than once a month. Leave grass clippings where they fall to break down and improve soil tilth.

4. Start deep watering trees and hedges with soaker hoses now. Do not let these high-value landscape plants go into summer in parched soil.  Woody shrubs and trees will become weak, susceptible to pests and disease and eventually die if you starve them. Water them on low pressure for eight hours or overnight once a month. In fact, if your yard is dry, start the slow watering with a one-off 16 to 24 hours of drip feed. If there is turf around  trees and shrubs, remove it first and mulch with wood chips taking care not to pile them up around the crown where the trunk meets the soil. You can get mulch free from city compost sites.

5. These simple steps may put several hundred bucks a month of mow and blow fees back in your pocket. You’ll need them to defray the water rate hikes likely to come with the drought. 

6. Fix  dripping taps. In a very short time that slow drip will cost you a lot more than the rubber washer you’ll need and even a $75 call out for a plumber. Water companies should consider hiring plumbers and going house to house tightening valves just as in the 1990s they went house to house installing low-flow toilets for free.

7. Buy nozzles for hoses. The amount of water spilled dragging an open hose may not seem like a lot at any single time, but this is a household tap drip on steroids. The indoor equivalent is leaving the tap running while you brush your teeth. It’s crazy wasteful.

8. Do not under any circumstances use your hose as a broom to sweep pavements.

9. Turn off or cap the sprinklers in the parkway lawn between the street and sidewalk. If you must have lawn in this worst of all settings, hand-water it to avoid overspill and waste. Check out the Lawn Reform Coalition. If a sneering neighbor, or worse, a home-owners association, comes to complain about your seasonally tawny lawn, call them a philistine and point out that even Prince Charles allows the lawn of  Kensington Gardens to brown out (and become waist high) in summertime.

10. After checking your soil for contaminants, convert part or all of your yard to food in the manner of Ron Finley. You’ll save water and eat better.

11. Ultimately, as your budget allows, the ideal landscape will have a mix of food plants and natives, which are best suited to our limited water supply.

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One Response to “Girding the grid for 20% water savings”

  1. Chris rown
    January 19th, 2014 @ 5:36 am

    I like the practical recommendations. Especially to water deeply and infrequently – plants evolve without irrigation systems, and most of them have mechanisms for slowing their water use (or the specific species doesn’t belong in a semi-arid environ anyway!). Our water agencies have become enamored of technologies like weather-based irrigation controllers, which cost lots and actually increase water use over the method you recommend! Your other suggestions are great, and how many people know the word “tilth?”

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