Arguing with drunks

Posted on | August 12, 2010 | 5 Comments

Los Angeles City Hall on a foggy morning seen from the top floor of the DWP building. Photo: Emily Green. Click on the image to be taken to the City Council 'on demand' service to watch LA's politicians try to pass a lawn-watering ordinance.

Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti yesterday encouraged colleagues to approve a 3-day-a-week lawn-watering ordinance while defending himself against criticism from a recent op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times (written by me).

“There was an editorial or op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, it was well written, it argued that we shouldn’t go to 2-3 because it kills more plants,” he said. “If you actually look, there’s a lot of research on both sides and that is really more about grass only and certain types of grass. And even in the hottest hours, we know that if you only do it twice a week in the hottest moments that grass just won’t survive. It’s not good for our oxygen, it’s not good for our carbon footprint, it’s not good for our heat island effect of this city. So 3 days for more types of plants does in the experts I talked to does put that forward.”

Responding to this drivel about the proposed expansion of lawn-watering from two to three days in a region in a water crisis feels like arguing with a drunk. But respond I will because these drunks are our lawmakers. First, Mr Garcetti, responding to your points as you made them, the article concerned lawn. The ordinance is aimed at lawn. Sprinklers are not suitable irrigation for shrubs and trees. No “experts” will disagree with this. Even your wife, who is the only expert you name, should agree with this. (Please stop hauling her into the crossfire.)

Secondly, the original ordinance that you seek to undo forbade watering in the hottest hours, which renders your stated concern moot.

Thirdly, one of the most whimsically disastrous things that we do contributing to our carbon footprint is sustain vast stretches of lawn in a climate dependent on imported water. Only a tiny fraction of our water is local. A quarter of the state’s energy goes to moving water. Within that, most of the energy is used to move it from the Bay Area, eastern Sierra and Colorado River to hot southern California, where within cities as much as half of it is used outside, mainly on turf. 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.

In short, there is nothing about lawn that reduces our carbon footprint. The idea that you can only combat urban heat island effect by turf is absurd. Lawn is not a solution for a city dominated by asphalt, concrete and glass; shade trees, green building and unpaved surfaces are. The air quality remark comes straight from the Scotts Company playbook.

Finally, a recent report by the State Water Resources Control Board estimates that Californians need to reduce their withdrawals from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta by 50% in order to avert environmental collapse of the largest estuary on the US Pacific coast. Your response to this is to defend lawn-watering?

But back to the chamber. Council woman Jan Perry opened yesterday’s discussion of the lawn-watering ordinance change by demanding how the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power will educate the public about it. However, that can only start when the change is voted by the council. Unable to pass the 3-day rule because of a dissenting vote by council woman Janice Hahn over time limits, the Council will return to the subject next week, two weeks before Labor Day.

12.40pm 8/12/2010: *This post has been lightly edited for grammar and spelling since the original posting several hours ago. The passage about energy and water has also been clarified to stipulate that half of the water in So Cal goes outdoors in cities. In, say, the Imperial Irrigation District, which is supplied by the Colorado River and dominated by desert farms, the proportion is obviously far higher.


5 Responses to “Arguing with drunks”

  1. Barbara Eisenstein
    August 12th, 2010 @ 8:43 pm

    Thank you, Emily! It gets tiresome to hear these fuzzy arguments when the stakes are so high. If we don’t stop fiddling while Rome – or more appropriately, Earth – burns then there is no hope. As predicted by scientists there are more extreme weather events throughout the world, yet we hold on to emerald green lawns in our dry Mediterranean climate claiming this helps the environment. That’s what happens when you stop educating the public – especially our political representatives. We need to hear from more people, like you, who have their information straight.

  2. Charlie
    August 13th, 2010 @ 10:50 am

    I can’t believe some of the ridiculous things people claim will reduce greenhouse warming. I guess continuing to do what you were already doing and pretending it is helpful is easier than actually solving the problem through reduction of energy (including water distribution) waste an conversion to more localized and sustainable energy sources!

    This isn’t just any water you’re dumping on your lawn either – this is purified DRINKING WATER – billions in the world don’t have access to clean drinking water and yet we dump it on lawns in semi-arid and arid climates. Someday people will look back on us with the same mix of disgust and confusion that we look back on the ancient Romans in their vomitoriums and drunken revelries.

  3. 55 gallon water barrel
    August 13th, 2010 @ 10:06 pm

    What a lucid argument you make. Why politics has to muck it up so much is beyond me. Water conservation is not just a sound bite, it is a culture, lifestyle, etc. You get information from qualified people, such as yourself, and then make decisions based on that intelligence, and not the cult o’ personality that is political posturing in hopes of looking or sounding good to the voters.

    I think everyone would do well knowing the truth, rather than half-truths which sound good. I believe they would harvest rain water, perhaps reuse grey water and landscape with plants that are native to SO CAL, rather than lawn turf.

  4. Ben Armentrout-Wiswall
    August 14th, 2010 @ 9:45 pm

    I’m still surprised there is opposition to a two-day per week watering ordinance after the record 20% reduction in water use achieved last year. Did L.A.’s lawns look so terrible in 2009? Can’t we just stay with a good thing?

  5. 55 gallon water barrel
    August 17th, 2010 @ 9:27 am

    As I was driving around my neighborhood in Texas (hasn’t rained in 4 weeks), I saw city crews watering the road medians which are full of, you guessed it, lawn turf. After reading your post here, it makes me want to talk to the city council about this waste. And of course, their vehicle was running while they were standing there in 103 degree temperatures, watering 80 foot long lawns in the middle of the road.

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