In early May, California’s water regulators backed a series of emergency measures proposed in an Executive Order issued by Governor Jerry Brown. The extraordinary conservation effort comes amid a historic drought, that some climatologists say will reach "Dust Bowl” proportions before all is said and done.
Recapping, the order called for a 25% reduction in overall water usage beginning on June 1 — so, last Monday. The state reduced its consumption by 13.5% in April (compared to 2013), suggesting residents will need to redouble their efforts if Brown’s targets are to prove realistic. While some communities have attempted to cast conservation as the "cool” thing to do, other localities say that in the absence of significant financial resources, the cuts simply aren’t feasible. AP has more:
April's best conservers included Santa Rosa, a city of 170,000 people north of San Francisco, which reported a 32 percent drop in April compared to the same month in 2013. The city offered a host of programs to achieve savings such as paying residents to reduce 52 football fields' worth of lawn and giving away 50,000 low-flush toilets since 2007.
Saved water "is the cheapest water you can find," said David Guhin, water director for Santa Rosa. "It's gotten to where lawns are uncool."
Cool or no, many communities are still falling far short.
"Fifty-thousand toilets? Really? We don't have that kind of money," said Alan Tandy, city manager of Bakersfield, where water use increased by 1 percent in the latest state tally.
If Tandy thinks he doesn’t have money to throw ‘down the toilet’ (so to speak) now, things could get materially worse if Bakersfield (which, as a side note, has a deal with Chevron to distribute water generated from fracking to local farmers) is unable to hit state-mandated targets. Here’s AP again:
Starting this month, each community has a mandatory water reduction target, with some ordered to cut back as much as 36 percent.
Water districts missing their targets face potential fines of up to $10,000 a day once June numbers are in, although a far more likely outcome will be state-ordered changes in local regulations, like toughening limits on lawn-watering.
Of course one way to ensure that Californians cut back on watering their lawns is to simply encourage households to remove the grass altogether and replace it with something that needs far less water — like rocks.
As The Guardian reports, grass has no real place in California anyway and is only present because Californians have never had to live without it and because the state's citizens exhibit a peculiar nostalgia for the time they spent as British monarchs.
Via The Guardian:
There is pressure to take things one step further and turn to lawns. More precisely, to the ripping out of them.
In his executive order, Brown called for the replacement of 50m sq ft of lawns with "drought-tolerant landscapes”, a goal to be achieved with the help of local subsidies and partial funding from the state’s water department.
"Over 50% of household water usage is outdoors,” said Stephanie Pincetl, a professor and director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at University of California, Los Angeles.
California’s love for lawns is wholly unsuited to the state’s dry climate, Pincetl said, describing the attachment as an "inherited historic aesthetic” that comes straight out of the British Empire.
"Turf serves no functional purpose other than it looks good,” said Bob Muir of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWDSC), which provides water to nearly 19 million Californians.
The MWDSC recently voted to increase its conservation programme to a whopping $450m over two years, with money taking the form of rebates on turf removal operations and incentives on efficient faucets.
Californians are taking the leap by the tens of thousands. Almost one year into that two-year period, Muir said, half of the money already spent (around $44m out of $88m) has been allocated to residents and businesses undertaking turf removal.
Replacing one's lawn with rocks and cacti has become so popular that it's spawned a growth industry.
Turf Terminators, a Los Angeles-based company created last July, has ripped up 5,000 lawns in less than a year, according to its head of business development, Andrew Farrell. The company started with three employees. It now has 565 full-timers.
But even with help from a turf-terminating team from design to completion, ripping up your lawn is expensive.
In Los Angeles, if you combine two separate subsidies from the city ($1.75 per sq ft), and the MWDSC ($2 per sq ft), you will most likely still have to put in some cash of your own.
According to Farrell, the average turf-removal job costs between $5 and $8 per sq ft. This means someone on a budget with a modest front yard of 400 sq ft would still have to pay $500 out of their own pocket for a $2,000 operation, if they went for one of the cheaper options.
If they wanted to go for something slightly more elaborate, the same resident would have to put in $1,700 of their own money for a $3,200 operation.
In fact, Terf Terminators advertises the fact that you may be able to have your lawn dug up for free, by simply signing over your "water rebate" (taxpayer-funded grass removal subsidy) to the company. Here's how it works (from the official Terf Terminators website):
Here’s how Turf Terminators can afford to offer its services for free:
Turf Terminators has consulted regional, municipal, and local water authorities, including utilities and state agencies to understand various turf removal rebate programs offered in Southern California.
Turf Terminators utilizes water rebates from state water authorities that are offered per square foot of turf that is removed and replaced.
Customers assign their rights to state-offered water rebates over to Turf Terminators.
Turf Terminators’ contractors transform customers’ lawns and campuses while abiding by certain landscape requirements dictated by state, municipal and local authorities.
Turf Terminators’ in-house laborers, relationships with local nurseries and suppliers and access to wholesale prices allow it to provide landscaping services at a low cost.
Government water rebates cover the cost of Turf Terminators’ services, which it provides WITHOUT CHARGING ITS CUSTOMERS ANYTHING.
And while Turf Terminators and its nearly 600 new full-time employees (including, we assume, the guy in the raindrop suit shown above) tear up lawns, and while residents skimp on showers, the state's lawmakers are doing what lawmakers in the US do best: nothing.
Via LA Times:
Farrmers have watched fields turn fallow. Residents have skipped showers and ripped up lawns. But four years into California's epic drought, Congress is status quo: gridlocked.
The state's splintered congressional delegation — despite its size and influence — has been stymied by fundamental disagreements over the causes of the drought and the role of the federal government in mitigating its consequences.
If anything, recent fights have only hardened positions, with both sides questioning each other's motives.
Ultimately, the state now hopes Senator Dianne Feinstein can help to break the stalemate. We'll leave you with the following, from Congressman Devin Nunes:
"If they don't do something soon they're going to get the whole damn state out of water."