Locked in a drought California takes drastic measures to slash water use

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California ordered communities to cut water use and implement one-day-a-week watering restrictions.

While California struggles amid one of its worst droughts in years, Southern California took drastic measures to slash water use. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California ordered communities dependent on water from the State Water Project to cut water use and implement one-day-a-week watering restrictions, or the equivalent. The measure applies to communities in Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties.

This move comes on the heels of a statewide order in March from Gov. Gavin Newsom to restrict outdoor watering to two days a week.

“It’s really going to change our approach more quickly than we expected,” said Max Moreno, vice president of water conservation with Harvest Landscape Enterprises in Anaheim, Calif.

Moreno said part of this ordinance includes a ban on watering ornamental turf, which is found in a lot of parkways. He said this is an opportunity for the green industry to take a broad look at how to conserve water more efficiently and keep the landscape healthy.

“Part of this ordinance is allowing us to be exempt if these properties have invested in smart controllers, invested in drip irrigation, just to make their irrigation more efficient and to conserve water,” he said. “So a lot of these HOAs, in some essence, are going to be rewarded because they took that approach a while ago. Some of these other properties that have been maybe putting it on the back burner are going to have to do something about it.”

Getting creative

Chad Sutton, water resource manager for Gachina Landscape Management in Menlo Park, Calif., said while Northern California might still be under a two-day-a-week watering ordinance, the turf — already under a significant amount of stress — will likely die during the hottest part of the year.

In 2015, Sutton and Gachina worked with clients to experiment with the amount of water necessary for turf to survive. He modeled his experiment after a study conducted at the University of California. His clients watered the turf using only 40 percent of its reference evapotranspiration with the help of smart controllers.

“We saw that the grass went dormant and dried out, but it still had enough water content to keep the roots alive,” he said.

Sutton said about 80 to 90 percent of the turf came back with normal irrigation. Crews replaced or overseeded about 10 percent of the turf.

“The money we saved on water more than enough paid for what we had to do to renovate it and bring it back to full health,” he said.

Sutton said this strict allocation on days is a challenge for companies that manage irrigation systems.

“If we can water enough to keep the roots alive, it bounces back, but if you start to go and artificially restrict the number of days between watering, that’s when you kill the blade and the roots,” he said, “That’s why I hate the two days per week watering restrictions because it takes away the professional irrigators’ ability to come up with creative solutions that minimize permanent damage.”

As water restrictions continue, Moreno said many clients look to utilize more drought-resistant plant material.

“Plant selection is now on the forefront not only with water conservation but with wildfires because of because of the limited amount of water that we have,” he said. “California originally was a desert. Throughout all these years, we’ve made it a tropical paradise. But we’re having to go back to kind of more of a desert in selecting plants that are used to this climate.”

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