Water Conservation is Serious Business

From Hal Eisner:

We've heard for a long time that June first is the day the Governor's mandated 25% cut begins in earnest. But, interestingly, we didn't find any big changes today. We checked with a number of water companies and the State Water Board, but today was a lot like yesterday as far as conservation policy. Today, though, water companies are aware they have a big responsibility and have to get their customers to cut as much as possible. All we spoke with said that the biggest target of conservation is outdoor watering. They said 70% of our water use comes from outdoor irrigation. So, the push will be to continue to get customers to get rid of their grassy yards and cut outdoor watering. Right now, LADWP customers are down to three times a week. Las Virgenes Municipal Water District is at two times a week. None, that we've checked, have really ordered their customers to make any different cuts today than yesterday.

We've been under conservation orders for some time now, but today is a beginning of a reporting period. Come next month the State Water Board will begin putting pressure on districts not showing progress, but the progress could be slow, so as the months go on there could be more pressure. For any districts not complying or even trying the State can issue a cease and desist order and that can be followed by a $10,000 a day fine, but the water board tells me there is no district, at this time, in jeopardy of that.

Bottom line is that starting today the Governor wants a 25% cut in our water use and the pressure is on to deliver.

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In Southern California in particular, things are poised to get even better for an industry that was battered by the recession and slow to recover. This week, the board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California voted to replenish its turf removal and other water conservation programs with $350 million to meet booming demand.

In communities across the state, homeowners are swapping out traditional lawns for drought-tolerant plants and shrubs, changing the look of many yards and the business outlook for landscaping and nurseries.

"Where rebates exist, interest is high," said Sandra Giarde, executive director of the 2,000-member California Landscape Contractors Association.

The Metropolitan Water District says it has seen monthly rebate applications increase 20-fold since April, when Gov. Jerry Brown imposed mandatory water cuts. The agency currently has requests involving the conversion of about 60,000 front yards.

In Northern California, the Santa Clara County Water District issued rebates for the conversion of 1.2 million square feet of lawn in the first four months of the year, more than all of 2014.

"It's just gangbusters," said Marty Grimes, a district spokesman. "We have people waiting in line."

The rebates have helped long-time landscapers and also drawn newcomers to the industry. Last summer, a group of friends started Turf Terminators to process rebate paperwork and convert lawns for Southern California homeowners who sign over the cash, said Julian Fox, chief operating officer of the company.

"The rebate is what gets us in the door and gets us on a lot of people's radar," Fox said, adding the company has converted 4,000 lawns.

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