Goodbye green gardens: California is struggling to meet water-use restrictions amid drought

Goodbye green gardens: California is struggling to meet water-use restrictions amid drought

Aerial view of a gated community and golf course in the middle of the desert in Palm Springs, California.Aerial view of a gated community and golf course in the middle of the desert in Palm Springs, California. MARIO TAMA (AFP)

The hills surrounding the city of Calabasas, 50 kilometers north of Los Angeles, are bearing the brunt of the drought that has suffocated this region of California for three years. The brown and yellow hues of the hills dominate the hills. But on the ground the situation is different. Bright green grass adorns the country club’s vast acreage and most public areas in this exclusive Los Angeles area, notoriously known as the crash site where Kobe Bryant died in 2020.

Gail Poole, 63, walks two beagles on one of the few traffic-free streets in this city, which is full of luxury villas in gated communities with private security. “Water wasn’t lacking here, but now it shows that it’s more careful,” says the woman, who has lived here for 17 years. As of mid-May, the Las Vírgenes Water District, which serves this area of ​​the San Fernando Valley, unanimously approved one of the most stringent water restrictions. “I’m only allowed to water my garden once a week on Thursdays, and for no longer than eight minutes,” says the neighbor. However, residents whose address ends in an even number can only do so on Tuesdays. The authorities have set a consumption limit of 300 liters per day. Those who pass will receive a notification by email. “I haven’t had any problems so far because I’ve been letting some of my plants die, but other neighbors have told me that surveillance has gotten a bit more intense,” says Poole, who is divorced and has two grown children. away from home. .

California’s fluid shortages have turned neighborhoods and quaint suburbs like these into battlegrounds in the austerity war. Waterway Police patrol these areas, hose in hand, in search of violators. Some of these agents, hired on an emergency basis by county water boards, use satellite imagery. With the drought that has plagued California for years, the worst in several centuries of records, it is normal for these records to appear yellow or orange in color. Instead, these police officers look for deep bruises, which is unusual moisture for these times of sacrifice.

Over the past eight months, more than 5,500 notifications of violations have been sent to residents. According to The Wall Street Journal, Kim Kardashian and Sylvester Stallone are among the squanderers in Calabasas. According to the newspaper, the Rocky protagonist exceeded the water limit by more than 300% to keep 500 trees alive on his $18 million property.

In Camarillo, a city of 65,000 west of Calabasas, they can only water their outdoor plants and gardens once a week and between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. for 15 minutes. Neighbors receiving three reprimands for non-compliance will be fined $600. With the fourth wake-up call comes a worse punishment: the city takes the pressure off the water intake.

California Governor Gavin Newsom sounded the alarm at the end of March. The year began with the first three driest months on record, for which the President called for measures to reduce consumption by 15% at the state level and up to 35% in areas hardest hit by the drought. He called on the 436 local authorities responsible for supplying the 58 districts to draw up contingency plans. They approved dozens of restrictions that have come into effect over the past two months.

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Subscribe toDamon Ayala, one of the water cops deployed to Los Angeles, photographs one of the irrigation sprinkler heads.Damon Ayala, one of the Los Angeles Water Cops, photographs one of the irrigation sprinkler heads. MARIO TAMA (AFP)

Most austerity measures have focused on off-premises use. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California states that outdoor irrigation accounts for 85% of urban water use. Counties have shortened the days and times when gardens and yards can be watered. Washing sidewalks, watering up to two days after a rain, watering artificial turf, starting fountains without circulation systems were prohibited. It was also forbidden to wash cars with hoses that don’t have an economy nozzle. Restaurants are not allowed to offer tap water until requested. Several neighbors have chosen to change the way their gardens are decorated, removing the grass and replacing it with gravel or mulch with cacti as an ornament, a desert style found in cities like Phoenix or Las Vegas.

For the second year in a row, the California Department of Water Resources turned off the faucet on 95% of the supplies it sends to cities. Because the high temperatures this year prevented snow in the Sierra Nevada, one of the main sources for supplying the network. Mountain water accounted for less than 25% of reserves, the third-worst reading since 2015 and 2018.

Newsom’s announcement was followed by bleak numbers. Consumption even rose by 17% in April. May was worse, up 18.9%. In June, however, restrictions reached the densest urban centers in the state, which has a population of 40 million. The first month of restrictions resulted in a 9% savings in the Los Angeles area. The July figures will be released in early August.

The latest figures released by California’s water authorities show a concerted effort, albeit a patchy one. Marin County, just north of San Francisco, is the star student. It has managed to reduce consumption by 24% compared to the cumulative figures for 2020. Also north, Sonoma and Napa counties exceeded the savings target by 18% and 16%, respectively. San Francisco has reached 7.3%. At the state level, however, the saving is only 2%.

Some environmental groups like Sierra Group believe savings will be limited until restrictions reach the country, where agriculture uses 80% of California’s water in a dry year (in a heavy rain year, the figure drops to 30%). . More than 400,000 hectares are devoted to the almond harvest, one of the company’s most profitable crops. And along with pistachios, one of the fruits that needs the most water, because they are durable and need watering all year round in order not to die. A report released this week by the organization Food & Water Watch shows that despite the drought that has plagued California for decades, almond orchards have grown 78% over the past 12 years.

It’s not the first time California has asked its residents to make this effort. In May 2015, then-Governor Jerry Brown enacted unprecedented measures to cut supply by 25%. The company was close to meeting it as the target was close to 24% thanks to an executive order that reduced the flow being pumped into cities. This lasted for nearly 11 months until early 2017, when a series of torrential rains ended one of the most severe droughts in five years. So far the worst in more than 1,000 years.

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