San Fernando resident Adriana Gomez has been doing everything in her power to save her lawn from turning brown while recycling water during the worsening drought in Los Angeles County. She brought home empty bottles left by her co-workers in the office, to refill them with water. She set empty buckets in the shower to collect water and used it for her trees, plants and grass. She put in astroturf and planted a shady 50-year-old carrotwood tree in her yard.
But she grew concerned that her plants could die when she heard that officials at Metropolitan Water District of Southern California were asking San Fernando residents to turn off their sprinklers and stop using hoses for nearly two weeks starting Tuesday, Sept. 6, so the district can repair a break in a major pipeline that supplies water to a large part of Southern California.
“It’s a big concern because I just put in a bunch of new plants,” she said. “I’m concerned it’s going to die.
Gomez found herself in a situation shared by more than 4 million residents in Los Angeles County who will face a mandatory ban on outdoor watering for 15 days in September while the Metropolitan Water District repairs the crucial pipeline.
Restrictions were announced after officials discovered a leak in the 36-mile Upper Feeder pipeline owned by the Metropolitan Water District. The Upper Feeder pipeline, which moves water from the Colorado River to California, will be shut down while the district makes repairs.
For some residents, the restrictions on outdoor water usage, coupled with the drought, low precipitation levels and extremely hot days that have plagued much of the region, underscore the challenges they face to save their trees, gardens and plants.
Besides San Fernando, residents of dozens of other cities, including Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Long Beach, Pasadena and Torrance, will be impacted by the restrictions during the pipeline repairs from Sept. 6 to about Sept. 20.
Pasadena Water and Power Interim General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger, in a statement, asked residents to make long-term investments in water-use efficiency by “removing thirsty turf and replacing it with drought-tolerant landscaping and upgrading to more efficient outdoor watering systems.”
In Long Beach, water usage recently dropped 14% compared to the same month last year because of residents’ conservation efforts, Long Beach Water General Manager Chris Garner recently said.
Shana Epstein, public works director in Beverly Hills, encouraged residents to keep conserving water. The watering ban, she said in an interview, is going to be “disruptive, but Upper Feeder has to be fixed and it would be worse if the Feeder wasn’t fixed.”
Cindy Montanez, a councilwoman on the San Fernando City Council and chief executive officer at the well-known environmental advocacy organization TreePeople, said it’s important to keep watering trees for public health reasons — because cities in the San Fernando Valley are facing hotter days and trees are crucial to cooling communities.
“We know that even though there’s watering restrictions, people still need to be able to maintain their trees for public health reasons and to help cool the environment,” Montanez said.
TreePeople has been working with cities across the Metropolitan Water District area, including San Fernando, to show them how to care for their plants and trees amid tough water restrictions.
Last month, TreePeople hosted a workshop in San Fernando to teach people how to save trees during the drought, how to conserve water, and how to plant drought-tolerant landscapes — even as they are asked to reduce water use. The organization helped plant about 600 trees across the bustling working-class city in just over one year.
“That’s one of the biggest concerns that we have, is not being able to keep the (tree) canopy coverage,” Montanez said. “It’s critical that people continue to water their trees.”
Joanne D’Antonio, who lives in the San Fernando Valley and chairs the trees committee in L.A.’s citywide Neighborhood Council Sustainability Alliance, said she worried that the new water restrictions could cause long-term environmental damage.
“You’d be better off asking people to take sponge baths — and still water a little bit, outside — because you’ve got to keep the plants alive,” she said. “If you let them die, establishing new plants utilizes way more water.”
She added that the dramatic restrictions are not just about letting lawns go brown, they can also permanently damage plants and trees.
“They won’t survive two weeks,” D’Antonio said. “It’s better to restrict your water in other ways.”
For Gomez, the new ban means that if she ends up losing her plants, it will be very costly to replace them.
“I try as much as I can to preserve my plants and my lawn,” she said. “I’m not happy about it, but I’m not the only one who has to do this.”
Gomez said she had already decided not to add any new plants or trees to her garden until the water ban is over.
“Now it’s a good time to plant certain crops,” she said. “But if I plant them now, watering them will be tedious. I am going to hold off for now because I don’t want one more thing dying on me.”
Tom Ross, a board member of the San Fernando City Chamber of Commerce, said he worried that brown lawns and water restrictions would impact the real estate prices in a city that has a small but popular shopping and cafe district — and recently became attractive to homebuyers.
“It may impact property values,” Ross said, “because no one is watering their plants.”
On the other hand, while some residents might feel fatigued after being told to follow new rules, others might welcome the watering ban, he said, because “in the end, if you don’t use the water, you don’t pay for it.”
Despite all the hurdles, for Gomez, preserving and recycling water is her main focus. “It’s not something that I think anybody wants to do,” she said, “but I think if we all do it together, hopefully it’ll make a dent.”
The two-week ban on residential watering, Sept. 6-Sept. 20, applies to 4 million residents in these communities:
Altadena, Artesia, Bell, Bell Gardens, Bellflower, Beverly Hills, Burbank, Carson, Cerritos, Claremont, Commerce, Compton, Covina, Cudahy, Culver City, Diamond Bar, Downey, East Los Angeles, East Whittier, El Segundo, Florence-Graham CDP, Gardena, Glendale, Glendora, Hawaiian Gardens, Hawthorne, Hermosa Beach, Huntington Park, Inglewood, La Cañada Flintridge, La Habra Heights, La Mirada, La Verne, Lakewood, Lawndale, Lomita, Long Beach, Lynwood, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Maywood, Montebello, Monterey Park, Montrose, Norwalk, Palos Verdes Estates, Paramount, Pasadena, Pico Rivera, Pomona, Rancho Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Rolling Hills, Rolling Hills Estates, Rowland Heights, San Dimas, San Fernando, Santa Fe Springs, Signal Hill, South Gate, South Whittier, Torrance, Walnut Park.
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