Spigots Turned Down Locally, New Data Shows

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San Marino’s water consumption has slowed to a trickle over the last several weeks, according to figures provided by California American Water, the company that supplies water to all but a fraction of the community.
Cal Am Director of Operations Garry Hofer emailed water-use tables to city officials last week showing that San Marino used 32% less water in June and July than it had over the same months in 2014. In May, the city did even better, dropping its use by a whopping 48%.
In the face of California’s historic drought, the state Water Resources Control Board has given California American Water a reduction target of 28% for this region over 2013 usage levels.
“I think people take seriously the drought situation,” Mayor Eugene Sun said Monday. “I think it’s very encouraging that our residents are doing their fair share.”
John Morris, San Marino’s representative on the board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said, “Given the number of people still watering in the street, I’m shocked that [the reduction] is that much. Some people are very definitely getting the word; you see brown lawns. But I also see lush and green and watering every day of the week.”
While many residents are said to be complying with the Stage-2 restrictions of watering their yards only two days per week — they face fines starting at $100 if they don’t — the bulk of San Marino’s steep water cutbacks appear to be happening at the municipal level. City Hall shut off the sprinklers along the medians of Huntington Drive and Sierra Madre Boulevard soon after Gov. Jerry Brown decreed April 1 that potable water could not be used to irrigate ornamental turf on public street medians.
In the wake of that decision, the city’s water bill has plunged — to $8,435 for the month of June, compared to the $21,040 spent on water in the same month last year, according to Lisa Carlson, who handles accounts payable for the city.
The city had been watering 25 acres of lawn down the center of Huntington Drive and Sierra Madre, which is more lawn than can be found in all of Lacy Park, City Manager John Schaefer said.
San Marino is in the process of converting the median irrigation to a drip system that will keep the 317 median trees healthy.
California American’s water-use figures for the city, which it must report to the Metropolitan Water District, showed that this community used 281 acre-feet in May, nearly half the 543 figure it posted in the same month last year. In June, the usage was 323 acre-feet, a reduction of 32.1% from the 476 acre-feet used in the same month last year. In July, it was 413 acre-feet, down from 605 in 2014 (a 31.7% reduction).
Of course, whenever a community’s water use exceeds its target figure for reduction, there’s always an inherent danger that people will conclude that it’s safe to start opening the taps a bit more.
“Conceivably, that’s a possibility,” Sun said. “But if we publicize the need and educate the residents, I think they’ll follow the guidelines. It’s somewhat of a hardship, but it’s bearable.”
He said it’s important that the city “lead by deed,” and the sharp reductions of water use on San Marino’s browning medians are an example of that.
Sun added that he’d like each citizen to consider it “a badge of honor” to have a brown lawn in the front yard or a dirty car in the driveway.

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