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Water, Water, Every-, er, Nowhere?

by Susannah Kopecky, published

I remember back in school, when one kid seemed to be taking too long at the drinking fountain, the next person would yell "Save some for the fishes!" Is the newest appropriate response instead, "Save some for the Californians!"?

Over the past year, a number of California cities and counties have been kicking into the water conservation effort, with water conservation programs, rebates, free water-saving tips and diagnostics, and more. Placer County's American Water recently began asking customers to take part in a "voluntary conservation" measure, while the City of Beverly Hills enacted two new water conservation ordinances at the end of Mach.

Beverly Hills put in place two new plans to save water: one concerns outside water use (the Efficient Landscape ordinance) and "start irrigation controllers," which are also known as "smart sprinkler controllers" or "weather-based irrigation devices. These are basically home (and office) sprinkler systems that are able to independently gage when to save water, and curtail excess water use. The new rule makes it mandatory for all newly installed or updated "landscaped areas to be equipped with smart irrigation controllers... manage landscaping watering needs based on weather and site specific requirements."

And to enforce this new water-saving rule, residents and property owners will be obligated to obtain new permits, submit landscaping plans and obtain certification from designation experts. In the plan, property owners must "plant materials... according to similar water needs, where feasible," must plan to address "erosion and runoff controls" in their plan, and must make sure that "irrigation systems are equipped with smart irrigation controllers."

Irrigation experts have estimated that 50 percent or more of the average homeowner's water consumption is due to irrigation and outside water use. Smart sprinklers may cost a pretty penny, but often may save significantly more than they cost; and with the many rebates offered by California water districts, the price of such water-saving devices is often slashed by a significant percentage. The city of BH estimates that smart sprinklers can save 13,500 gallons of water every year, in addition to saving more than $700 on water bills.

Beverly Hills also put into play a second ordinance, which requires residents selling any property within the bounds of the city, to retrofit their properties "with low consumption showerheads, toilets, faucets, and urinals at the time a property is sold."

Many water districts have been getting involved with water conservation issues, from offering generous rebates on the purchase of water-saving items (including the smart sprinkler controllers, low-flow toilets, specialized faucets and shower sprinklerheads, laundry machines and dryers) to offering water conservation tips, free seminars on landscaping and garden tours of landscapes with native/drought-tolerant plants, offering contests and prizes, and sending out representatives for free water-saving "house calls" to help homeowners assess their individual water needs and where they can save more water. These days, anything to save money is welcome; saving water most definitely translates to saving money. And with the threat of water rationing, if the current situation does not improve through spring, the threat of elevated water prices in California is a reality.

California congressional leaders such as Ken Calvert have simultaneously been lobbying for federal restrictions on water pumping to be removed or loosened, in the golden, but dry, state of California. This call for loosened restrictions came as a result of the recent judge-ordered ruling that the San Joaquin Delta be basically locked down from Southern California, which relies on the San Joaquin area for quite a bit of its water reserves. Ostensibly, the ruling was made after it was found that a certain fish may have been going down in population, with the pumping. Others have argued that the well-being of Southern California residents (remember, Los Angeles was once a desert) is more vital than the call of environmentalism. In 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared the state to be in a state of emergency, after a dry spell officially brought the Golden State into a drought.

Calvert, a representative based in Riverside County, has cut his teeth on matters intersecting technology, water and government. Calvert is on the Water and Power Subcommittee, for which he was the chairman. In that capacity, he dealt with matters of Western water issues and federal rights, alternative (water-related) technologies, and previously introduced the Water Supply, Reliability and Environmental Improvement Act. According to Congressman Calvert's official Web site, one of his goals for the 110th Congress include "creating long-term solutions to California's energy and water problems."

In the past, Calvert has sponsored and introduced legislation to promote the building and maintenance of facilities near the Santa Ana River and San Juan Capistrano, for water treatment, recycling and other irrigation projects.

There are many reasons to save water in California, and fortunately, there are also many ways to save water, on a daily basis. Further consideration and planning is needed to ensure that enough water continues to be provided to California residents. If a ruling to close off the San Joaquin Delta is upheld, perhaps the same judge can help think up a way to ensure the continued flow of imported water to Southern California.

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