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Time to talk about use of that four-letter word: ‘lawn’

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POSTED July 17, 2014 12:43 a.m.

Water use is down 20.4 percent in Manteca in June compared to June of 2013.

It’s down just over 20 percent in Roseville.

It’s up one percent in Long Beach.

It’s up three percent in Los Angeles

It’s up four percent in San Diego.

Meanwhile 430,000 acres of farmland are no longer using water, the drought essentially putting a number of farmers out of business for the time being.

It is against this backdrop that Jerry Brown — who was governor when the peripheral canal went down in flames in 1982 at the ballot box — is pushing for the twin tunnels without having to put it to a vote of the people.

And let’s not forget that the governor in January asked for a 20 percent reduction in water use when he declared a drought emergency in California. Instead, we find out that water use is actually up one percent over a year ago in many urban areas. While no region in the state hit the governor’s target, the Southland coastal communities that include Long Beach and Los Angeles to San Diego, was the only region besides extreme northeast California that actually had a jump in consumption.

In defense of LA, its overall consumption is down from 1970 levels despite having a million additional residents. Per capita water use peaked in 1987 at 187 gallons and dropped to 122 gallons by 2011 before starting creeping upward again to 152 gallons. Compare that to 196 gallons for Manteca, 279 gallons for Sacramento, 313 gallons for Fresno, and just under 300 gallons in Roseville before the start of conservation efforts asked by the governor.

So why the big spread?

It’s probably a case of out of sight and out of mind, wealth levels, plus the No. 1 consumer of residential water — landscaping with most of that going to lawns. The state indicates half of all residential water goes for outside uses such as landscaping and swimming pools.

Granite Bay — a high income enclave east of Roseville — has one of the highest per capita water consumption rates in the state at 505 gallons based on 2013 figures. Why? Virtually all of the homes are on super-sized lots with many being an acre or more. Plus its considered a birthright in Granite Bay to have a swimming pool.

Roseville, which is also fairly well off with plenty of executive-style homes and lots, is about a 100 gallons higher in water use than Manteca.

That’s after they have made a significant reduction — 20 percent — over 2013 levels. Inspiring Roseville without a doubt is the precarious low levels of Folsom Lake that the city depends upon for all of its water.

Los Angeles’ long-term water drop has a lot to do with pricing. As much as we complain about the Southland sticking straws into water basins far, far away the end users pay the price. Since the 1977 drought, LA arguably has become the leader in conservation efforts. Ironically, the opposite was true in Sacramento. One of the big reasons is the city where all state water policy comes from does not have water meters. With flat charges there is no economic incentive to reduce water use.

Manteca about 10 years ago started seeing a drop in per person water consumption. It was driven in part by a multi-tier pricing system that penalizes larger users by making them pay a higher price per unit for exceeding normal levels of water use.

Left to nature’s whims, the entire Central Valley and the Los Angeles Basin as well as the San Diego coastal area would be a semi-arid desert from May to October if not longer.

Water in the hot season hasn’t been a critical issue for generations in those three regions thanks in a large part to reservoirs and aqueducts built since the turn of the 20th century.

That’s not the case in areas such as the Eastern Sierra that do not import water and have lost water to other areas of the state.

You will see modest patches of grass at homes in Bishop, Independence, Lone Pine and Big Pine. You still see landscaping but its concentrated in trees, shrubs, and other plants that do not require nearly as much water as a lawn.

It’s time to stop allowing the unrestrained use of that four letter word “lawn.” It is basically obscene given the amount of water a typical lawn takes.

Simply banning any new home from at least having lawns in front yards that serve almost exclusively an ornamental purpose would go a long way toward easing long-term water consumption.

Instead, the state fiddles by giving jurisdictions the power to slap $500 fives on water wasters.

The state needs to take action not just to help us survive the current situation but to reduce long-term use of water even further as California continues to grow.

If 20 percent of the state’s water use is for residential and urban purposes and half of that goes to landscaping with lawn accounting for the bulk, California could easily dial back its per capita water use by upwards of 50 gallons while cutting back perhaps 5 percent of its overall need for water.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.

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