Turf war continues

Posted on | July 7, 2010 | 1 Comment

A proposal from Los Angeles Department of Water & Power Commissioners to switch LA’s lawn-watering ordinance from a two-day to a four-day-a-week opposite side of the street regime was rejected yesterday by the Los Angeles City Council, reports the Los Angeles Times. Instead, led by San Fernando Valley councilman Greig Smith, the council countered with a proposal that would allow three-day watering, though for shorter periods. This will be returned to DWP commissioners for consideration.

Last year, after the two-day rule was instituted by his own chamber, Smith publicly flouted it. “My grass is greener than it’s ever been,” Smith told the Daily News last September, a time of year that lawn is naturally brown. He defended his proposal yesterday by saying that it uses less water because of shorter cycles, with a total of 24 minutes watering a week instead of the two-day system’s 30 minutes.

The upshot of yesterday’s vote: A scofflaw gets his way, Smith can still argue that he is a conservationist while undermining public messaging about lawn watering mid-summer, the City Council gets to continue its browbeating of the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, and turf is defended while its broadscale use in Southern California is steadily wrecking the environments of the region’s three main water sources, the Colorado River, Owens Valley and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

In the poetic timing department, the same day that Smith won his battle in the Los Angeles City Council, Aquafornia carried this report from the Reno Gazette Journal. In it, Desert Research Institute researchers say that air pollution could be reducing the snowpack that feeds the water supplies of Southwestern cities by as much as half.

State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators and the Assn. of Local Air Pollution Control Officials estimate that as much as 10% of urban air pollution in Los Angeles comes from lawn equipment.

Take a bow, Mr. Smith.

*As a jaundiced post-script, for those who feel that I have undersold the potential savings in Smith’s six minute watering cycle reduction, you have a point. But so do I: To my eye, the overall message of a three-day system is: Water more. Timing of watering cycles falls into the category of fine print. Further, I fear that those who read that fine print are not necessarily any more likely to abide by it than Smith elected to observe the 2009 law voted by his own chamber.

UPDATE 7/8/2010: A clearly and justifiably disgusted Los Angeles Times editorial board gets it almost right in today’s “DWP’s Good Will Diminishing” when it reprimands both the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power and City Council for indefensible sluggishness in updating the 2009 lawn watering ordinance in light of clear evidence that pressure surges and drops caused by the rule were probably behind last year’s rush of pipe ruptures.

However, as odd as it feels to be defending the DWP, the delay is the council’s. The department may have been slow accepting that the water main ruptures were caused by the surges, but its skepticism was over the plumbing, not the politics. After receiving the third party USC report on water main leaks on March 31, 2010, in little more than a month, DWP commissioners accepted the two-day program might be at fault and forwarded a considered recommendation for a re-crafted ordinance to the city council on May 6th.

It then took a notionally very worried city council until July 7th to vote on this, at which point it put its in-fighting with the mayor and DWP over a host of issues, mainly how to finance green power initiatives, ahead of water conservation. This left the door open for the lawn-loving Valley Councilman Greig Smith to lead a rebellion rejecting the considered DWP lawn ordinance recommendations in favor of an alternate plan, which just happened to be the one that Smith was demanding nearly a year earlier so his lawn would be green in high summer. Thanks to Smith, and the city council, the DWP service area will probably be well out of the peak water, hot summer months into what is forecast as a dry La Nina rain season before the council returns to the subject of outdoor water conservation, during which time Smith will have kept proudly flouting the council’s own existing conservation program at the time it’s most needed. The procrastinators here are in the council, led by Smith.


One Response to “Turf war continues”

  1. Charlie
    July 23rd, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

    This is especially frustrating because, if you must have a lawn, more infrequent, deeper waterings are better, and less wasteful, than frequent sprinkles. It takes a certain amount of water to even get to the roots, and watering a little each day leads to much of the water staying on the leaves of the grass and evaporating.

    Now, I don’t think most people should even HAVE lawns, but if they insist on it for now, at least let’s not be more wasteful than necessary.

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