Residents and businesses can’t afford to waste water, according to Matthew Lyons, director of planning and conservation for the Long Beach water department. During his presentation to the Wrigley Area Neighborhood Alliance (WANA) members during their meeting on Jan. 27, Lyons noted that the city gets half of its water from three major aqueducts. He acknowledged that all three aqueducts have reduced their water supplies over the last 10 to 15 years and, since there are more people living in Southern California now, there are sincere concerns that water might be scarce.
However, the Long Beach water official explained that even though the region may need to demand more water at a time when the supply is less, the City’s combined focus on saving, storing and even recycling water helps to avoid a water crisis.
“Even though there’s been this severe drought,” Lyons told the WANA members Monday, “we don’t have a water crisis in Southern California because…over the last 15 years or so, we’ve invested huge amounts of money in storage, and we had water to put in that storage because we [have] conserved. The only reason we can fill up the storage over the last few years is because we’ve been storing, even though we weren’t in a crisis.”
Lyons acknowledged that in the past, the City had declared a water crisis. Residents were asked at the time to water their lawns only three times per week, but later, the City eased up on its water restrictions after the severe water shortage had passed. However, many residents continued to save water. In the meantime, the water department invested in those storage facilities to save the precious resource for a rainy day– or really, a lack of rainy days.
Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown proclaimed a state of emergency for California’s drought conditions. He encouraged Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent. According to the Long Beach water department’s planning and conservation director, the City is still encouraging water conservation, but the water reserves are still enough for the needs of both residents and businesses.
“So there’s a drought,” Lyons concluded. “And we want to use water wisely, but we aren’t forcing our businesses to cut back. Our economy can still hum along. We still have plenty of water for our families and for everything we need.”
Lyons also promoted a department program that could help area residents and businesses save even more water. The lawn-to-garden program offers $3 for each square foot of grass that is removed. Grass lawns must be replaced by a drought-friendly landscaped area. Landscape plans must be approved by the department. Residents can receive up to $3,000 from the program, and participants can take classes to learn about landscaping with California-native plants and other vegetation that can thrive on less water.
Lyons named other ways for residents to save water. Right now there is a rebate program for high-efficiency washing machines and sprinkler controllers. Residents can also purchase low-flow toilets and shower heads. He encouraged residents to monitor their water meters to check for evidence of leaks in their home.
The message of saving water was not lost on the WANA members in attendance. Gloria Gonzalez, a 72-year-old Wrigley resident, had already replaced her rose bushes with succulent plants in her garden. A retiree from her work at the Long Beach City College, Gonzalez has the time now to enjoy her garden.
She started with tiny succulents that have since thrived under her watch. Gonzalez has fallen in love with the plants and flowers, proclaiming the succulents are especially quite beautiful, with their varied hues of green.
WANA President Maria Norvell said she was frightened by the water shortage in the state, but she is already doing her part to save her water output. She takes three-minute showers. While she runs the shower waiting for the warm water to heat up, Norvell also keeps a bucket to catch the liquid to water her lawn and trees later. She became deeply concerned when she thought about how so much land is dry and how fires can start up in an instant. She also thought about the lakes up north when she saw them on one trip.
“To see the Northern California lakes dried up, it really saddens me,” she added. She said she would continue to conserve her water.
Wrigley resident Gary Maynard is enthusiastic about the lawn-to-garden program that is offered by the City. Maynard and his husband participated in the program last year and received about $2,500 from the program.
Together they took the classes offered by the department, picked their plants, tore up their grass, designed their own landscape and planted a number of drought-tolerant plants in their front and back yards. Taking advantage of one program that offers free mulch and a discount from a local nursery, Maynard says that so far, they’ve spent only $900 on their landscaping.
The 35-year-old resident acknowledged that it was hard work, but he is so pleased with the outcome, he flipped on his cell phone to show off a picture of the first bud from his sunflower plant.
He said that they are already conserving water in their home. Like Norvell, they are saving water in a bucket under the shower. Maynard also said that they have a bucket underneath the sink. He added that they have even lowered their water usage to the point that they are saving on the portion of their property taxes that charge for the replenishment of the water table. He said that cost is a driving factor behind his efforts to save water, but he also said that since Long Beach is located in an arid region, it should be treated as such.
“[Water] is a scarce resource,” Maynard concluded, “and we want to make sure that we aren’t part of the problem.”