L.A. tries to live with brown lawns as water restrictions yield results: ‘It’s so sad’

Damon Ayala looked at a wet sidewalk on South Tremaine Avenue on a recent Wednesday and pressed a pen.

“Nobody should water today,” he said. “That is the proof of watering today. They will receive an informational letter from me. “

Ayala is a member of the Los Angeles Department of Electricity’s water conservation response unit, and he spends his days patrolling the streets of LA looking for homes and businesses that violate drought rules. new. Limitations effective June 1 and includes the city’s strictest outdoor watering limits.

A man with a gray beard and glasses holding a pen in one hand and a clipboard in the other near the front lawn

Damon Ayala of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Electricity inspects lawns in the Mid-Wilshire area for people violating the two-day-a-week watering restriction on July 6, 2022.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

“We try to give our clients the benefit of the doubt that they may not know about the ordinance,” Ayala said as he scribbled the address of a Mid-Wilshire home that appeared to be the source of the confusion. moisture violation. “This is why we’re doing what we’re doing now, and that way we can start contacting them and then maybe they’ll know.”

The efforts seem to be bearing fruit. During the board meeting on Tuesday, DWP officials announced that the city’s water demand in June fell sharply by 9% compared to the same month last year. This is the lowest water use in any June on record.

“The city of LA is doing an absolutely amazing job at following the message from the governor and responding to the situation, which is the severe drought we are in right now,” said Anselmo Collins, senior assistant secretary of state. High of the water system general manager, said the board.

Under the new rules, LA residents with odd-numbered addresses can get water on Mondays and Fridays, while those with even-numbered addresses can get water on Thursdays and Sundays.

However, despite the positive reports, it is clear that some Angelenos have more limitations than others. The Mid-Wilshire area where Ayala was patrolling was home to patchwork of land in varying conditions, including some sparkling green grass alongside others that were dead and browned.

A man pushes a stroller and walks his dog on a leash across lawns that have turned brown

Filip Szymanski, a resident of the Mid-Wilshire area, goes for a morning walk. Szymanski, who rents an apartment in the area, said he needs to contact his landlord to get his automatic watering system adjusted to meet the new restrictions.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Cathy Tuch, who has lived in her Mid-Wilshire home since 1980, said she was saddened by the visible effects of the drought.

“I’m just really upset about what’s going on. My yard usually looks so green,” she said, sweeping dead leaves and twigs into a bag.

Although she has experienced drought restrictions in the past, she said this time feels different, more difficult.

“We’re going to have to replace a lot of things, especially the grass – it’s gone. It looks like hay,” she said. “So sad.”

The region’s major water wholesaler, Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District, first issued a call for an unprecedented reduction in water use in late April. Some agencies have chosen to reduce residents to outdoor watering restrictions one day a week, but others, including the DWP, have chosen to stay within a specific volumetric allocation.

“We believe that watering two days a week and getting people to really pay attention and reduce their water use will help us access the allocation that the Met has provided us with,” said the total. DWP director and chief engineer Martin Adams spoke about the decision at the time.

Officials say the city was able to keep its water budget intact through the first month of a constrain, keeping it below 112 gallons per person per day in June despite soaring temperatures that typically boost consumption. . In May – the month after the announcement – water demand fell by 3% compared to the same time last year.

“We made a conservation appeal and you responded quickly and decisively,” Adams said in a statement about the figures. “But it’s early in the summer months and we need people to continue to conserve water whenever possible to help us navigate the rest of the summer when water usage is typically higher.”

A woman with a rake and broom in one hand and a dark barrel in the other walking on the brown grass

Landscape artist Maria de la Cruz works in the backyard of landlord Daniel Tellalian, who no longer waters his lawn.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Water use is also starting to decline statewide, though State Water Resources Control Board officials last week warned that more needs to be done to achieve voluntary savings. 15% that Governor Gavin Newsom called for last year.

But while some residents are working to make those adjustments, others are just continuing to water. The sprinklers at the house next to Tuch’s sprayed a steady stream of water onto a semi-green lawn last week, in apparent violation of the watering rules of the day.

The owner of that home, who declined to give her name because she said she worked in law enforcement, said she was aware of the ordinance but couldn’t figure out how to correct it. its decades old system for the correct date and time.

“There are only two options: on or off,” she said.

She notes that she does other eco-friendly endeavors, including driving an electric car, watering the garden herself, and collecting water in buckets for reuse. But she also doesn’t believe the city’s water-saving efforts – including discount program for lawn replacement – it all worked, and says she thinks the money could be better spent helping the homeless.

“Is it just a signal of virtue to let our lawns turn brown?” she asked and added that she didn’t understand why swimming pools, golf courses and ginkgo trees were not subject to stronger rules.

Statewide, average water use is about 50% for the environment, 40% for agriculture, and 10% for municipalities. However, officials have insisted that residential savings actually increased. Outdoor watering, in particular, is the biggest waste of water in urban areas, and “California-friendly” landscapes are drought-tolerant and can save up to 85 percent more water than grass, according to MWD. .

During the board meeting, Collins said requests for a lawn replacement discount have skyrocketed since the restrictions were announced, with more than double the number of applications in May and June than with the same period last year.

“Over the past two months, we have had almost 300 requests for lawn changes, which is the most popular discount the department offers,” he said.

More than 51 million square feet of grass has been replaced in the city, he said, since the program began about a decade ago.

In a statement Tuesday, Mayor Eric Garcetti highlighted the rebates and also urged residents to do more.

“It is encouraging that this progress is underway, LA continues to break heat records monthly, and we are faced with the stark reality that this crisis is becoming more and more of,” said Garcetti. deeper. “As the hottest months of the year approach, we asked Angelenos to not only maintain a biweekly outdoor watering limit, but also find additional ways to cut their water use by taking advantage of the 20 LADWP rebates to help our bidders save money and have made Los Angeles one of the most water efficient cities in the country. “

A man in dark clothing gestures while holding a clipboard on the sidewalk outside a house

Damon Ayala of the Los Angeles Electricity Department walks past a lawn that has been completely replaced with artificial grass on July 6, 2022.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

There are also other signs of progress, including an increase in the number of water waste complaints. Collins said there were 3,000 complaints in May and June, more than double the same period last year.

The DWP also issued 49 residential and commercial citations in June, he said, noting that most were for “informational purposes” but that repeat offenders would be fined.

Ayala, the DWP patrolman, said he will check to see if a homeowner on South Tremaine Avenue has broken any rules in the past, which could warrant a monetary quote. But he also stressed that the goal of his work is education, not punishment, and said most weeks he releases hundreds of informational letters and only a handful of tickets.

“If I have the opportunity to get an education, it is always my first choice,” he said. “Obviously we could issue a warning quote or a currency quote, but what we’re really looking for is behavior change.”

That change will be easier for some Angelenos than others. Gardener Adrian Ruiz says he’s never watered just two days a week before. He hopes he can revive some of his clients’ dying lawns in the winter if the rain returns.

“Many clients will say, ‘I can’t have friends anymore,’ but at the same time, maybe I’ll be in the business of landscaping work,” he says. One of his clients in Silver Lake approached him about converting her recently installed $6,000 lawn with something more drought tolerant.

“I think people are accepting it,” he said of the new rules.

But another gardener, Maria de la Cruz, says she has lost five of her 15 clients since the new regulations went into effect and has less and less work to do. She runs her small business with her son and another employee.

“I feel sad because it’s ugly,” De la Cruz said after driving the lawn mower through dead grass at a house in the Carthay area.

A man in a blue t-shirt and cap stands on the brown grass. Behind him, a woman in a hat holds a rake, broom, and a dark barrel.

Daniel Tellalian has stopped watering the lawn at his home in the Mid-Wilshire, Los Angeles area. However, he plans to continue to let Maria de la Cruz work on his front and back yards.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The home’s owner, Daniel Tellalian, said he plans to keep her team working even though he has let both his front and back yards die under the new restrictions.

“We’re a real block of neighbors – we actually sit on our front lawn and gather and do versions of happy hours and things like that together, so that’s real. sadly,” he said as he surveyed the sea of ​​dead grass.

“But for now we’ll just sit on our brown grass,” he shrugged. “We’ll bring it back if conditions are better.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-13/ladwp-conservation-update L.A. tries to live with brown lawns as water restrictions yield results: ‘It’s so sad’

Edmund DeMarche

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