It was early 1991. Southern California hadn’t seen any significant rain in five years. Things were looking pretty dire. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which supplied 95 percent of our water, had already cut water deliveries by 31 percent and was planning a 50 percent cutback. Lawns and gardens were dead, businesses were folding and extreme mandatory water-use restrictions were being enforced. And then, in March, it rained … a lot.

The drought ended but the memory of those days didn’t. In a single voice, San Diego county said to the water authority, “Never again.” We needed to do whatever was necessary to reduce our dependence on a single supplier and find better ways to use this precious resource that was so scarce in our region.

At the end of the drought, the water authority began an aggressive water conservation program. This effort was part of an overall goal of increasing water supply reliability and reducing our dependence on Metropolitan. Since their inception, these conservation programs have saved 492,000 acre-feet of water. That’s more than 160 billion gallons of water we did not have to buy and import into the county. If you live or work in San Diego County, conserving water is a necessity, a duty, and it should be a way of life.

Okay, so you’re saying, “What can I do? I’m one person, what possible difference can I make?”

Does it annoy you to see lawn sprinklers going off in the middle of a rainstorm? Do you want to go knock on the door of the guy who is diligently watering his driveway and sidewalk and you’re watching that water run down the street into the drain?

Here are some facts. While the amount of water savings from indoor conservation has grown steadily since 1991, we have barely scratched the surface in water savings outdoors. By simply practicing good, basic landscape management, studies have shown we could save 20 percent of the water that is currently used on landscapes. That translates to a savings of 62,000 acre-feet annually, or more water than would be produced each year by a 100-million gallon-per-day seawater desalination plant.

If San Diegans would make a commitment to install low-water-use landscapes we can save another 20 percent, another 62,000 acre-feet. If you don’t think that San Diego is ready to embrace more efficient outdoor water use practices, think again. A new public opinion poll by the water authority found that 83 percent of San Diegans thought drought-tolerant landscapes to be easier to maintain than traditional landscaping, 67 percent thought they were at least as attractive and 55 percent thought they were no more costly. Approximately two-fifths (41 percent) of respondents said they would be motivated to reduce the size of their grass lawn to make maintenance easier and another 27 percent were interested in saving money through lower water use.

Are you ready to make the commitment? Because if you’re not, I’d like to know why.

The benefits to our region go well beyond the water savings. Low-water-use landscapes reduce urban drool, the run-off that flows to our beaches and bays that we all enjoy so much. Reduced runoff reduces damage to roads – potholes that we all pay to repair as taxpayers! Low-water-use landscapes reduce the green waste going to our over burdened landfills, which we all pay for with our taxes! And it will reduce your individual water bill. If you receive your water from an agency that sets your sewer bill based upon your winter water use, a low-water-use landscape will also reduce your sewer bill, which is sometimes greater than your water bill. 

If you want to get started, visit the Water Conservation Garden or the water authority’s websites for lots of great ideas!

Bottom line — water conservation makes sense because it’s good for our people, our economy and our environment.

FERN STEINER

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