Big fines considered for Californian's overusing water in drought

Tessiess, SoCal Inland, 9b, 1272' elevJuly 9, 2014

Up to $500 per day!!!! That would sure get my attention. I just finished taking out my front lawn and replacing it with drought tolerant plants, mostly natives. While these plants are getting established, they will need regular water, but not as much as the lawn wanted all the time. I didn't know these penalties were coming, but I'm glad I got this project finished beforehand.

Lots of people in my area are taking out lawns and going for drought tolerant landscaping. Lots of native plants. I haven't seen others using roses, but I have some that are quite drought tolerant.

In the new front yard garden, I've put in one rose, Rosa minutifolia 'Pure Bea', which is a white-flowered CA native rose. Goes dormant in the summer without ANY water (can survive many months, once established without it, even during the worst heat of the summer, although it looks like a pile of dead sticks--playing possum it is!). Rosa minutifolia, as the name implies has tiny foliage. It also has many thorns and tends to form a dense mound that is good cover for wildlife (which also like the tasty hips). Doesn't look like a typical rosebush though, it's very primitive looking, more like a thorny fern.


Here is a link that might be useful: California drought fines proposed

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paparoseman(z8 WA. PO.)

Yep, I just read that Lake Mead is at near record low levels and if it drops much more there WILL be necessary reductions in water supply to cities like Las Vegas.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2014 at 7:44PM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

I tried to grow Minutifolia here, some years ago, but it didn't like my cool, humid conditions.

Of course, as our conditions change, it might eventually be happy, here.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2014 at 8:41PM
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ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

I wonder what took them so long to get around to this when everyone knew last winter that the snow pack was woefully inadequate, the winter rains were a joke and spring looked like summer in many places. Lawns have no place in our kind of environment, and neither do golf courses unless they recycle their water. It always amazes me when politicians seem to be the last to get the word, which of course has been the case with global warming as a whole. It must be more fun to do something when it's almost too late.


    Bookmark   July 9, 2014 at 10:09PM
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catsrose(VA 6)

After 18 years (of water shortages) in Santa Fe, I came here to VA. After a few months, I realized how much more creative gardening was in Santa Fe. Here, everyone throws out a lawn, lines it with a few foundation shrubs, a crepe myrtle, dogwood or redbud, and a few azaleas and hydrangeas for color and calls it a garden. Houses after house after house... In Santa Fe, you could take an hour just walking down a block looking at what each residence had done. Lots of creative uses of hardscape, micro-zones, careful selection of plants, multi-textured...And I grew lots of roses there--no blackspot, mildew, rust, rrd or jap beetles.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2014 at 8:12AM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

I think there are large parts of this side of the country than need to address the use of water. But even these proposed fines for non recirculating fountains? Who has one of those? Hosing down sidewalks and driveways? I am sure there are people that do that, but I do not see it often, I have hosed backyard walk down, but all the water goes right in to the bed and never on the street. Same with when we do the work walks, only where we keep our water. Cars? I suppose there are people who let their hoses run but pretty sure they are not where people pay for metered water but instead where they pay a flat fee.

If they really wanted to address the use of water, the politicians should set a max amount of grass for front yard use as a percentage of yard space and the same for the backyards. Should you want more lawn, there should be a way for you to tap in to your towns graywater system. I know the golf courses use gray water but home owners can't tap in to that supply.

On the other hand, a new development swapped land so they could build. They had to create a native wet land grass area. It looks really nice, too bad it was built mostly at the top of the hill and the graywater system is being bypassed and using hydrant water only (fresh water) Flooding this new top of the hill wet lands...... Guess expecting politicians to think logically is not really in the cards

    Bookmark   July 10, 2014 at 12:42PM
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I'll tell you who has a non-recirculating fountain, Kippy: the City of Livermore. The "Lizzie Fountain" downtown was recently revamped to include even more spouting heads and runs all day long. Because it is used as a play area for children, the water is not recirculated for health reasons. No talk as of yet of shutting it down because of the drought, though there was some noise about limiting its hours (not happening yet that I can see -- every time I drive by it's going full blast). In fact, an article in the local weekly newspaper recently talked about the impetus to keep it running because that's what the local merchants want, as a draw to downtown.

A worse example to set in a time of drought I cannot imagine. The city council recently imposed mandatory restrictions on residences and businesses, but many people, I think, won't really believe there's a drought unless that fountain is shut down.

Lawns not only take a lot of water, relatively, but even worse their automatic irrigation systems frequently water the sidewalk more than the lawn, it seems. A common, horrible sight around here is water flowing like a river in the gutters from someone's sloppy lawn irrigation system.

I won't get started on the issues and idiocies of mitigation wetlands and other created habitats -- I could rant on for pages on that topic.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lizzie Fountain

    Bookmark   July 10, 2014 at 1:31PM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

We have neighbors who send gallons of water running down the Lane. They seem to think that perfect green lawns are important. (I don't.)

I can honestly say that not a drop of water leaves our property. In fact, when we DO get rain, no runoff leaves our property.

One other neighbor cares about that. Just one. :-(

    Bookmark   July 10, 2014 at 10:21PM
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Being water-wise is always the way to go; but bear with me: I would like to see a chart comparing water usage and, if there's a way of measuring it, water wastage of such categories as Residential, Commercial-Industrial excluding Agriculture, Commercial Agriculture, Governmental excluding Military (perhaps broken down into separate City/County/State/Federal sub-categories), and Military. I have a strong suspicion that, while those in the Residential category might be quite prone to wastage, their water usage and thus their water wastage is minuscule compared to the water usage and water wastage of the other categories. And yet Residential always becomes the whipping-boy. When lawmakers start discussing fines on residents, we citizens should be peppering them with the question, "And what are you doing about the categories which use and waste much larger amounts of water than we common folks ever do?"

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 11:34AM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

Of COURSE that has to be addressed!

But I'd like very much to see it addressed in some manner OTHER than cutting off all water to farms. I think your idea of assessing WASTED water in those settings (just as they're talking of doing in residential) should be a key element.

BUT STILL --- I really resent seeing water flooding down our Lane, in a stream 3-ft. wide.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 12:08PM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

I don't blame your for that one Jeri. If it was streaming like that down our street and on my side, I would be wishing I could scoop that up. Except I bet they also use a variety of things I don't want in my yard.

Odinthor. That would be really interesting and I bet very telling. I feel for the farmers but I also see that some should also work on environmentally friendly ways to grow and manage water. Flooding fields to grow crops not meant to grow in ca is not the best idea

Cats I can see why that type of water feature should not recirculate. But it should also have fewer spouts for drought seasons and limited hours.

Hearst castle is closing down their bathrooms and replacing with porta potties. Yes they will save water but what about the added water used to process the waste in the porta potties and their hose down way of cleaning. Seems like a away for one to proclaim reduction when there is no actual net reduction.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 12:46PM
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K-t-H alludes to looking at the larger picture; and this brings up something which those who jump a little too quickly on the bandwagon either don't consider or don't find it politic to mention: Pests. Because I have been a xerophyte enthusiast even longer than I have been a rose enthusiast (and we're talking about half a century), I was well ahead of the curve by about two decades in planning and beginning to implement xeriscaping at my home. Aloes, Agaves, Sedums, Cacti, and so on--mmm, yummy! I was only too happy to have reason to make them a major part of my landscaping. I began a program of replacing portions of my parkway lawn with beds intended for succulents; and indeed the beds at length were all constructed, bit by bit--oh, my aching back!--such that about half of the parkway lawn is gone. But let me tell you what happens when you replace once-a-week watered lawn with once-a-summer watered succulents: You provide our little six-legged friends the Ants (to mention just one pest) with their hearts' desire--perfect conditions to expand their network of nests. As I need tell no one, Ants do all sorts of mischief, and the outcome of giving them an opportunity to enlarge their empire is that you give yourself the mandate of trying to control them. In short, what you gain for the environment in saving water, you lose for the environment in spreading pesticides (if you try to control them), or harm to your food or plants (if you let them have their way), not to mention the stress of it all. Journalists, activists, and politicians who have the attitude of "save water and save the world" are being very naïve.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 2:58PM
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Odinthor makes a good point above, about ag water and waste versus residential. In typical years, agriculture uses approximately 80% of the water available in California while residential use accounts for about 12%. Thus, if ag were just 15% more efficient in their use of water, enough would be saved to more or less equal all of residential use.

Prior to this year, which confirmed beyond doubt the severity of this drought, I would get really ticked at calls for all to conserve water when ag accounted for so much use and, if they saved even a pittance (e.g., not growing water-intensive crops that are absurd to grow in CA, like cotton and rice, using anything more efficient for water delivery than flood irrigation...), it would make a huge difference.

But this year, even agriculture is suffering, having been largely cut off by the federal and state water agencies. The extent of their suffering has been made worse because of the expansion of ag acreage allowed in the giddy years following the El Nino of 1997-98 by the CA Water Resources Board over-promising deliveries and increasing pumping out of the Sacramento Delta by something like 50%. That was halted to some extent by legal judgements a few years ago restoring delta flows for the delta smelt and for salmon runs, but now the drought has cut the farmers' supplies even further.

So, this year and in this situation, I'm doing my best to significantly cut my own water use (not going to be so many repeat blooms in the farther, steeper parts of the garden, for sure), but I sure hope to see a gain in efficiencies in ag use in the future, not just whining about how people put fish ahead of farmers (with no mention, by the way, for the plights of fishermen).

And, yes, there are the ants. Their tunneling is annoying and damaging enough, per se, but then they go and actively husband other pests, like scale and mealybugs, on their own little ranches and farms, using my plants as fodder for their livestock. Very galling!

This post was edited by catspa on Fri, Jul 11, 14 at 17:17

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 5:14PM
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Good info, catspa!

And just to add my own watering strategy: As soon as the first real heat wave comes, usually in mid-July (so any day now), I give up trying to keep the lawn green, and just am satisfied with keeping it alive. (And keep in mind that I hardly water the lawn at all from mid-November through about April.) In regular drought years, this means watering the lawn only once every two weeks; in severe drought years, this means watering the front lawn only once every two weeks, and the back lawn only once every four weeks; in mandated restriction years, both lawns only once every four weeks. The ornamentals in the borders get the privilege of water once a week normally, and, even in the worst conditions, at least once every two weeks (beauty has its privileges!).

Some might be wondering what happened with my succulent ant-attracting parkway beds. The plantings in them are now really tough perennials for the most part: xerophytic Labiatae (Lavenders, Saturejas, Marrubiums, Salvias, etc.), Iris, Daylilies, Alyssum saxatile, Scabiosas, Ruta odorata, with some Roses ('Sunshine', 'Lullaby', 'Tip-Top' or 'Baby Doll', 'Elizabeth Navarro', 'Pied Piper'). These can go just fine without water for two weeks (or more!), if necessary.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 6:15PM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

Kippy's right, that the water running down the street is full of things I don't want in my garden . . . everything from poisons laid down by gophers to weed-killers and high nitrogen lawn fertilizers, not to mention chlorine.

But I still hate to see it wasted.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 7:07PM
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Absolutely, Jeri--water wasters, whatever their proportion of water usage in the State, are being arrogant, and I'm tempted to call them sociopaths too. Each person has an obligation to Society to do his or her reasonable part to conserve!

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 8:16PM
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roseblush1(8a/Sunset 7)

I want to say thank you to all who have shown more common sense about the water issues in our state than our elected representatives. It felt good to read this thread.

I live in a County-of-Origin for water in our state and what we seem to hear about our state water issues is "We're taking your water because we need it."

Of course, there is no mention that taking our water will no doubt impact our economy. There are fewer of us, so we don't count. Nor is there any concern that water reserves are vital to fight wildfires, but, of course, since we live in a natural wildfire area, we are charged a fee to pay for CalFire.

Ingrid made a very valid point about our politicians. They don't have a real clue about the real issues we face in this state.

Odinthor ....

I think you need to add residential development to your analysis. How many new developments without an identified source of water have been put in place in the last three years ? the last 10 years ? How many are planned for next year ?

"water wasters, whatever their proportion of water usage in the State, are being arrogant, and I'm tempted to call them sociopaths too. Each person has an obligation to Society to do his or her reasonable part to conserve!"

I agree 100% and thank you for speaking up.

Now, if we can only convince the politicians and developers .... nah .. they don't have a clue about the scope of the problem.


    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 11:55PM
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As to the ants: I have used an ant bait named Terro which has been very effective at keeping the ants out of my fig trees and house and patio as well. (The ants can fill the inside of a fig in no time making them disgustingly useless.) The active ingredients are boric acid and sugar and so not harmful to the environment. I had tried other ant baits with little success but this one I recommend highly.


P.S. Did you ever get that lonesome rose propagated?

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 1:03AM
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Cath, yes, thanks, Terro is my product of choice with ants, and it's wonderfully effective. I use the dust version (the ants have learned to ignore the other forms). Watering is actually part of the process, as watering forces the ants to swarm, which is just the time to dust 'em--you can bet I'm paying microscopic attention to the ground when I'm watering. After a zero tolerance campaign of about six years, I can state that it has been three years since I've had any ant trouble inside the house; and there's a minimum of activity outside.

I'm afraid I haven't done anything further with the sole existing specimen of 'Gustavus Vasa' yet. I guess I'd better get moving on that issue!

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 9:09AM
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Where I live in Marin County, CA we are lucky that almost all of our water is sourced locally, from reservoirs on Mt. Tamalpias. We had so much rain in Feb and March this year that they tell us the reservoirs are still to date at "90% of average for this date". Just lucky, obviously. So, we have no mandatory water restrictions at all, although some voluntary cutbacks have been requested. We are still using our irrigation system (no rain will fall here until Oct at the earliest). We did carefully review it, and made sure that all of the drip and soaker hose (I like those miniature soaker hoses - no spray at all) systems were working properly. We did find one humungous leak, which the water company did reimburse us for ($1,500!) after we found it and hired a plumber to help my DH dig 3 feet down in the muck to cap it - old gardens have old (this one was est at over 90 yrs old) & deep water pipes! It turned out that the one which was leaking had been "abandoned" over 50 years ago, but the seal failed eventually, and it was on a direct line from our meter, running at full pressure 24/7, until it flooded a flower bed and we noticed.

Another related topic - our neighborhood had a meeting with the Fire Dept last summer to discuss plantings. Our neighborhood is old, covered with huge old trees, and very hilly - just like the neighborhoods in Oakland that had that horrific wild fire. Our Fire Dept is particularly worried about drought tolerant plantings that contain a lot of flammable resins, like juniper, bamboo, eucalyptus, etc., or are very flammable such as tall grasses. They evidently explode in fires!
Many of the California native plants that are so popular right now have the same problems. That makes sense, as they evolved to not need water during our "normal" 8 months with no rain each year. Anyway, the Fire Dept suggested that any garden plantings near the house be ones that were green and well watered! They like lawns, if they are mowed, green and damp! Our town has even passed a law outlawing certain drought tolerant plants such as juniper because of the fire risk they pose.

It is a conundrum. So, for now we are keeping our extensive garden, with the beds near the house well watered. None of our irrigation water runs off our property, although the huge amount of storm water does during the winter rains. The problem then, in a normal year, is flooding - the huge storm drains on our street have trouble keeping up with rainstorms that drop 1-2 inches a day for 4 days in a row..

We are hopeful that this next winter will be more normal, and that we will be worrying about street flooding. However, we do understand that this weather change may be more permanent, in which case we will have to figure out something (hopefully other than concrete and plastic plants) to do that does not increase the fire risk.

Nothing is ever as simple as it appears at first!


    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 2:22PM
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nikthegreek(9b/10a E of Athens, Greece)

Jackie, succulents, cacti and yuccas ( if kept clean of dry foliage) are all both water thrifty and pretty fire retardant. A hedge of prickly pear for example is both fire retardant and intruder proof. Vines like trachelospermum, campsis, tecomaria and the like are pretty draught tolerant once established and are considered pretty fire retardant also. Pistacia lentiscus is one evergreen extremely drought tolerant bush (as long as it receives winter rain), native in the Med, which is considered fire retardant also.

This post was edited by nikthegreek on Mon, Jul 14, 14 at 0:37

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 12:30AM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

In fact, in earlier times, Prickly pear cactus was planted in rows, to make living fencing. If you know prickly pear, you know that it can become immense, and impenetrable -- put your livestock behind a prickly pear fence, and they're not going to break out, that's for sure.

Our native chaparral WILL burn (as we know, from various wildfires) but prickly pear can survive almost anything, and rebound.

Our coastal oaks are somewhat fire-tolerant. Eucalyptus, though, is for sure a huge fire hazard. It can also become dangerous in windstorms, if not trimmed regularly. And you don't want to see an avocado orchard burn . . .

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 1:51PM
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nikthegreek(9b/10a E of Athens, Greece)

Another fire retardant and drought tolerant evergreen tree that comes to mind is carob as long as the fallen debris is cleared off the ground. Olive trees will also be slow to catch fire but if they do they will then slowly burn for days. I read somewhere that the pepper tree Schinus molle is fire retardant but somehow I doubt it. Speaking of orchards, citrus are fire retardant as far as I know but of course they are far from drought tolerant.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 2:10PM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

In The GAP fire that raged by us a few years back, the fire dept said it was the lemon and avo orchards that save us from the fire making a run for the city

I noticed the new wetlands made the mud swallows happy. Lol that condo association is really going to have issues due to that and their plantings. Of course by Monday the mud nests were all washed away. But they will be back.....

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 3:42PM
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roseblush1(8a/Sunset 7)

When I had the CalFire crew out here doing fuel reduction work, they told me that almost all hardwood trees are slow to catch fire.

When I went up to a wildfire area last winter where a fire started by lightening in June of 2008 and had been allowed to burn all summer I could see that many of the oak trees were still alive, but all of the pine and fir were gone.

For me, the blackberries covering a 7' cliff across the road are more of a fire danger than the junipers covering the slope in back of my property. Those junipers have been there since the 1960s and are probably holding the slope in place. The fire crew chief told me that they were the least of my problems, if this area caught fire as fire travels up hill.

It's always something.


    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 3:59PM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

Our fire dept posted public service note about clearing. They said the same about oak trees, that they slowed fires and did not blow large embers. They reason the avo and citrus saved us has a lot to do the them burning slower than the dry grass, the access roads are fire breaks and they are irrigated plus the ranchers have water systems set up and they also keep the trees short here for easy picking. If you have ever driven up the coast and see. The "white ghost trees" that is done to bring the height down

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 4:52PM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

Avocado orchards DO burn. I've seen it in our area. Don't burn like eucalypts, but they do burn.

We have two "California" Pepper Trees, and I would be quite surprised if they were at all fire retardant. (Though, I think it would be a happy surprise.)

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 6:52PM
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Sunday, I wrote a "letter to the editor" to the L.A. Times (pretty much along the same lines as my remarks earlier in this thread, and incorporating Lyn's additional category of residential development), making the point that the common citizen's use, and wastage, of water is shall we say a drop in the bucket as compared to the use and wastage of the other categories of users (agriculture, governmental, commercial, and so on)--and yet Journalism, Politics, and Activism act as if nobody uses or abuses water other than the common citizen. My letter has not been published (yet!); but it would have been very timely, as what do we read in the news today but that an amount of up to ten million gallons of water was wasted yesterday on Sunset Blvd. near UCLA because of a break in a water main (which we can categorize as governmental wastage due to poor upkeep of public facilities). This erases all the savings in water from the efforts of the common citizens in L.A.? the Southland? all of California? all of these, and for a number of years? And yet it is the common citizen who is made the whipping-boy when drought comes around. We should stop mildly accepting the blame and the strictures. When Journalism, Politics, and Activism come around pointing their collective finger at us, the common citizens, our response should be, "And what are you doing about the real users and abusers of water, such as Commerce, Government, Agriculture, and Real Estate Development? The common citizen with his or her very modest proportion of water usage should be the last person you accuse."

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 11:55AM
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anntn6b(z6b TN)

When I saw the three inches of water that filled the UCLA Basketball area as well as the thirty foot high geyser that was the break, I wondered if there was any way to deflect it to do some good for plants.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 12:02PM
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Elraes Miller

They were doing that in the town I lived in 10yrs ago. It didn't seem to slow down those with huge lawns. What really irked me is they reversed the fine and credited it back to all. This after making sure I kept to the schedules and times. I felt the ones who saved water should have gotten credit. Perhaps the counsel found their bills too high and gave to the rich.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 12:02PM
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roseblush1(8a/Sunset 7)

odinthor ...

Thank you for including new residential development as one of the problems that exasperates the water usage issue.

Good grief, they are having enough problems supplying water to current users, how can they justify the addition of more users to an already stressed system ?


    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 6:07PM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

Here in my town, they are paving formerly-productive fields, and building "luxury apartments" as fast as they can. (THAT landscaping feeds no one, and uses water.)

And Los Angeles Co. has permitted the creation of an entire new city, at the top of our watershed. There goes the aquifers that have brought us water.


    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 7:15PM
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ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

Nothing angers me more than the fact that new housing developments, which mainly benefit their developers' pocketbooks and the politicians whose hands are being greased to allow this and cause problems for everyone else, are still allowed to spring up everywhere. Does anyone in charge really give a d..n about the welfare of the people as a whole? The infrastructure in terms of water usage, roads, schools, police force, fire stations and everything else has been cut to the bone and yet this kind of insanity still goes on, further destroying the little bit of wilderness that is still left and destroying what can never be reclaimed.


    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 7:24PM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

Right on, Ingrid!

BTW -- It occurs to me that DWP could maybe be fined for wasting water . . .

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 7:37PM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

Funny thing, they will probably blame the break on extra pressure due to too many people reducing use.

I had to note the dozen high pressure impact sprinklers running off the fire hydrant again today while creating their new hilltop wet land....complete with some rather HD looking bulbs that came up.

Jeri, our little town (Goleta) has approved 2 hotels, a drive thru, Target, and most recently 550 new units (they had orginally asked for 275-just who did that math...) in addition to almost 1200 new apartments, condos and townhouses all with only 3 ways to reach the freeway and roads that are already slow regularly. I have a friend on the council who I am sure is embarrassed at this point. It is ridiculous.

On the other hand, considering what is allowed for Montecito home owners to use on landscaping, maybe it is better to have apartments and condos.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 12:21AM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

HEY! I thought Montecito was out of groundwater?

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 8:29PM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

I think they are out of everything but what they can buy.

You would think with all that use of lawn irrigation their aquifers would be recharged.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 9:14PM
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I totally agree with all of your comments, particularly Odenthor's about residents having to carry all the burden of water conservation while commercial, agricultural, etc users are not held responsible for their poor practices.

And the endless building of homes on the outskirts and apartments everywhere...these kind of practices have ruined the climate here. But, the mindless building goes on and on.

I' m totally with all of you on this....just burns me up!!!!

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 10:15PM
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I saw a broken water main on the street that leads to mine yesterday pouring watering for several hours. I thought of this thread, then said to myself, there goes all the water everyone in this neighborhood will save all year long by being prudent.

But let's not jump on the farmers. Yes, some are growing things that should not be grown in that place. Cotton comes to mind. But we, the market, have been rewarding them for it, so of course they would. On the whole people I know in agriculture try very hard to be good stewards of the land. Any number of farmers are letting acreage lie fallow this year because they cannot get enough water to grow anything on it. If smaller independent farmers are driven from the land, they all we will have left will be Big Agriculture.

I cannot see how that will be good for anyone.


    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 10:29AM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

Folly -- You are so right!

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 12:01PM
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Unfortunately it's more like "we the government", Rosefolly, on many fronts. Cotton, and to a lesser extent rice, are crops that are subsidized by the federal government with price supports, etc (see the numbers below for cotton, for rice:

So, not only do farmers pay a very low rate for the water they get from the state and federal water projects, where the infrastructure costs (dams, canals, pumps, etc.) were paid for by taxpayers and are hardly repaid at all by the rates charged, they are paid additionally to grow crops that are inappropriate for the climate and frequently deemed "surplus" to boot. Crop subsidies have been cut sharply recently, which may lead to changes there.

If a farmer decides to go out of the business (perhaps because salinization and waterlogging of land that comes with irrigation has ruined it for farming, and/or inability to earn enough return from crops), they still own water rights for cheap water, which can be sold. To whom are they sold? Developers who need to acquire water rights as a prerequisite for being allowed to build new developments by municipalities...

I have full sympathy for small ranchers and farmers, coming from a ranching background myself and counting many among my family and friends. Unfortunately they are not the ones calling the shots. One interesting book on the topic is "The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire", about cotton growing around Corcoran. Especially illuminating are the parts explaining the interesting political stance these folks took on the Peripheral Canal debate of the 1980s. Another great book on the topic is "Cadillac Desert", by Marc Reisner.

Sorry for the long soapbox; this is obviously a topic that has long interested me.....

Here is a link that might be useful: U.S. cotton subsidies

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 12:02PM
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I note in a follow-up article that the amount of water wasted by the city due to its poor maintenance of that water main on Sunset Blvd. was not 10 million gallons as reported at first but rather approximately 20 million.

And then they'll come around and, with a straight face, tell restaurants not to serve water with a meal during the drought.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 11:31AM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

Can I add to how frustrated I am Odinthor?

City TV ads remind us to turn off the water when shaving or brushing your teeth (and the yellow is mellow) Now I have no issue with that but......

The city golf course along with the hotels and some parks, the local hilltop wet lands and the university all water lawns using gray water. All through UCSB today there are signs saying how they use 90% gray water for landscaping...which is nice since they have all those green lawns.

The issue is, for the past 4 years the recycled water plant has had problems and has been mostly using FRESH drinking water. It is down completely now while they replace filters etc. So all those toilets not flushing etc are going to WATER LAWNS.


Here is a link that might be useful: Arrgggg

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 11:45PM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

Yeah. That bugs me, too, Kippy. Nor am I alone.

The Ventura Co. Star is starting to receive letters from people who would like the Camarillo City Council to concentrate on water-saving techniques, rather than promoting the building of thousands more houses to use up what water we have.

And, they ask, what's up with the huge, rolling, deep-green lawns surrounding City Hall?

It's all well and good to skimp on toilet-flushing and tooth-brushing water, but everything DH and I have saved here is offset by all those public lawns.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 8:30PM
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I've been checking some figures supplied by the EPA.

The "average household" uses (not wastes, but uses) 320 gallons of water a day, which is 116,800 gallons per year (in a 365 day year). They specify that 30% of this represents the household's "outdoor uses."

The Sunset Blvd. incident wasted approximately 20 million gallons. That would have been full water usage by one average household for over 171 years.

Considering outdoor usage by the average household (the 30% mentioned above), the EPA says "as much as" 50% of this is wasted. That would be 48 gallons a day of wastage by the average household, which, in a year, would be 17,520. Let's say that our average householder managed not to waste that 17,520. That's very nice; but it would take over 1141 householders saving that amount to equal what was wasted in the Sunset Blvd. incident. To put it another way, the Sunset Blvd. incident wasted a whole year of strenuous efforts at conservation by over 1141 households.

The EPA also supplies a pie chart, dated 2005, of "freshwater withdrawals." Here are the percentages of water usage, in descending order:

Thermoelectric power, 41.5%
Irrigation, 37%
Domestic, 8.5%
"Other Publicly Supplied Users," 5.4%
Industrial, 5%
Aquaculture, 2.6%

(They note that mining and livestock account for 1%, which I suppose is part of the Industrial category.)

Look at the above, and note that the top two line-items, Thermoelectric Power and Irrigation, account for no less than 76.5% of water usage. Even if one would say that the water used by Thermoelectric Power is then still available afterwards for other uses and so eliminate that category, Domestic (household) use still trails far behind the "final" (i.e., not available for other uses afterwards) usages for combined Irrigation, "Other," Industrial, and Aquaculture.

And yet, it is us, "Domestic," with our little 8.5%, which is made the whipping boy during a drought.

Here is a link that might be useful: EPA Information

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 1:32PM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

I wonder, though ... Does "Irrigation" perhaps include Irrigation by homeowners? (Remember -- more and more people are growing vegetables at home -- for aesthetic and also health reasons.)

Many people are keeping chickens, too.

If it is irrigation of agricultural crops -- SOME of that is necessary. I can live without CA producing rice and cotton, but fruit and vegetable crops are important! CA churns out about 80% of the nation's vegetable/fruit crops. I hate to think what food will cost, as we produce less and less.

AND not all households waste water. Not one drop of water leaves out property. Surely there must be other homeowners who can say that.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 1:42PM
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We irrigate much of our garden, but OF COURSE not one drop of water leaves our property - we can't afford to irrigate the street or sidewalk! I mis-spoke - the birds and the deer and the skunks and raccoons and possums and squirrels drink out of our 4 birdbaths, and they do leave the property!

I think part of the hysteria in the news is that, as usual, the news media is hyping the Governor's action, and making believe it says something it does not. Watching TV, you would think that he banned all lawn sprinkling - not so, did not ban any.

The fines for watering so that water runs down the street, or onto the sidewalk, or washing your cars without an automatic valve on the hose, or washing down concrete, etc etc. were met in my county with a "we have had those rules for decades - no big deal". Perhaps those sorts of rules are new in some parts of So Cal, but here they have been in force since the droughts of the 1970s.


    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 2:13PM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

Jackie -- Those rules ARE new, down here.

More to the point, at least in my area, no one is going to enforce them.

There are people who follow rules for the general good. And there are people who say: "Yeah? Let's see you MAKE me!" And the people who break the rules KNOW that no one is going to enforce it, so they go right on doing what they do.

I don't know what they think they're going to do, when The Well Runs Dry.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 2:25PM
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I'm sure that "Irrigation" intends "Agriculture." Watering one's vegetable plot at home would be "Domestic."

Reflect that a tiny percentage of additional conservation by the big categories would, by the very volume of the respective usages, mean enormous savings in water, while the most conscientious and strenuous efforts by the homeowner would be, almost literally, a comparative drop in the bucket. And this is the kernel of the nub of the heart of my point: They expect homeowners to go to great lengths, change their personal environment and lifestyle, and live their lives under scrutiny and the threat of fines and so on despite the fact that their heroic and generous efforts will in the final analysis be completely insignificant vis-ÃÂ -vis the whole picture of water and water savings, while those other categories which could make small changes which would have little effect on their operations, but which, by the magnitude of their usage, would have an enormously positive effect on water savings, are not given a responsibility commensurate with their usage.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 3:37PM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

Another concern, at least around here, is that there are no laws governing access to and use of groundwater.

An agribusiness, or an oil company, or a major developer building 2.500 houses, can access as much of our groundwater as they wish, until they use it right up. We have no protection.

The wells that provide my water are right down the hill. If they run dry -- or if fracking has hopelessly polluted the water -- I have no recourse.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 3:49PM
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Odinthor's essential point is right on, but it should be noted that the EPA figures cited are for the U.S. as a whole.

For the U.S. as a whole, the percentage of water used for agriculture/irrigation (which are the same and do not include watering residential yards) is a relatively lower percentage than in CA because crop irrigation is most intensely used in the western U.S. and not so much elsewhere. The percentage the EPA gives for thermoelectric power is again for the U.S. as a whole and is a vastly greater percentage than the actual one for California since most of California's power generation use sea water for this purpose and relatively little from freshwater sources. (see comparisons for this at link below).

U.C. Davis estimates for "developed" water use (i.e., that which is captured or otherwise accessed for human use) in California have roughly 80% going to agriculture/irrigation, 10% municipal or "domestic" use, and 10% for all other uses, to use round figures (these figures are also given in this Wikipedia article:

Alfalfa and livestock forage are almost always the two biggest uses of water in CA, with rice and cotton often in positions 3 and 4 (sugar beets frequently a biggie, too). The fruits and vegetables Jeri mentions, all of California's other crops, each take relatively small shares compared to the top four.

So, as Odinthor points out, a relatively minor percentage of savings in ag has far more potential for big reductions in overall water use than even the most draconian cuts in domestic water use (or, in the case of California, all other uses of water combined).

Too true about lack of regulation of ground water -- it's still like the old wild West on that front. Along with the problems of depletion and degradation of the aquifers themselves, land elevations in parts of the the San Joaquin Valley have actually sunk by 24 feet or more due to subsidence caused by ground water overdraft. (

That said, it's still a sin to let water run down the gutter or use it frivolously, especially this year.

Here is a link that might be useful: Thermoelectric water use

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 10:09PM
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