Your Lawn is About to Turn Brown

Expect Los Angeles to get just a little bit browner this summer.

No, we're not talking about ethnic demographics here. In response to our epic drought, the governor of California today announced historic mandatory water restrictions for individual water users.

Gov. Jerry Brown's executive order asks residents of "cities and towns across California to reduce water usage by 25 percent."

That's you.

It sounds like it will be up to the city of Los Angeles to help us reach that goal. Mayor Eric Garcetti earlier this month recommended that house dwellers tear out their lawns. He really said that.

Emily Green of the website Chance of Rain says we should expect the city's current three-days-a-week restrictions on lawn watering to shift to two days per week.

She thinks that, if city officials act right on this, lawns will be the main local victims of Brown's mandatory restrictions. She says that indoor conservation in the city has reached its limits — almost all of us have low-flow fixtures. About half our water goes outdoors.

So it's either the lawns or the trees. Trees are crucial to helping to cool Los Angeles in warm months, and they're irreplaceable.

"Unlike grass, which will pop back after being left for dead, trees don't pop back," says Green, who's also working on a series about the California Delta for KCET.

The governor's order will mandate the replacement of 50 million square feet of California lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping; target golf courses, campuses and other facilities with wide swaths of grass to face special cutbacks; and block new housing developments from watering "ornamental" grass medians or hooking up to water lines "unless water-efficient drip irrigation systems are used."

The governor's order doesn't appear to target California agriculture, which, as it has been said, feeds the world. 

Your Lawn is About to Turn Brown
Mother Jones

Carolee Krieger, president and executive director of the California Water Impact Network, was critical of the omission. She says, for example, that almonds alone use 10 percent of California's agricultural water.

"Almonds in California use almost as much water as all the people," she said.

Eighty percent of the state's almond crop is exported, mostly to Asia, she said. It takes a little more than one gallon of water to grow one almond, she said.

And that's just almonds. Pistachios and other Golden State crops are water-intensive, too.

"I really think Gov. Brown is missing the boat," Krieger said. "Politics be damned. We're in a serious situation."

In a press teleconference today, state officials said agriculture was already under strict, specific restrictions and that water will be cut off if growers don't adhere to the rules.

One official said that growers are facing "increased water efficiency while trying to maximize the economic activity."  She said "demand" for almonds "continues to increase" and that "they are very efficient users of water."

A reporter during the conference told officials, "It seems like you're hitting the little guys instead of the big guys."

Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins of San Diego supported the governor's action, stating:

Our decimated snowpack shows that Governor Brown is right to put these strong, mandatory steps in place. Getting through this drought and future droughts to come will take a combination of immediate, short-range and long-term steps. The governor’s order today is the right step at the right time. Now it’s up to all of us to do our part.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Garcetti last year announced a goal to reduce water use by 20 percent by 2017. Obviously, he'll now have to step up that game.

The L.A. Department of Water and Power announced earlier this month that city water users reduced their usage by 20 percent from January 2007 to January 2015. At the time, Garcetti said this:

I’m asking Angelenos to heed our call to reduce their water use by 20 percent by reducing sprinkler use, checking for leaks and removing your grass. Now is the time to do what we can to cut back even more and prevent a severe water shortage when summer comes around.

Today the mayor had this to say:

I welcome Gov. Brown's announcement and the state's response to our historic drought. ... We must keep up our momentum to conserve, recycle and rethink how we use water to save money and ensure we have enough supply so that our city can thrive.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow L.A. Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.


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