City Cuts Off Water Due to Drought

Soon to be brown, a victim of the city's water conservation efforts.
Soon to be brown medians, a victim of the city’s water conservation efforts.

By Jennifer Erickson | LB Indy

Motorists entering town along Laguna Canyon Road should prepare for the disappearance of the green ribbon of grass lining the median as the result of a new water conservation measure approved by the City Council this week.

Turning off sprinklers to turf-covered medians that extend from Broadway Street to just beyond Canyon Acres Drive will save the city about 1 million gallons of water a year, said Public Works Director Steve May.

As the drought continues and alternate sources of drinking water, such as treated wastewater and desalination plants, struggle to attain viability, state and local officials look to conservation as a crucial tool to meet future water needs.

While three years of record low rainfall and snowfall in California prompted the governor to enact a water action plan in January, the city has been taking steps to save water since 2007, said May.

Thirty-four waterless urinals were installed in public men’s restrooms beginning in 2007, which save up to 40,000 gallons of water a year, said May. And swapping 3.5-gallon flush valves for 1.3-gallon versions in 35 public toilets cuts consumption by 60 percent per flush, he added.

Additionally, smart irrigation controllers and low flow sprinkler heads are in use in most city parks and landscaped areas. The city also curbs water use when cleaning sidewalks and tennis courts, and uses evaporation-reducing mulch in planters and drought tolerant plants in new landscape installations, said May.

With few exceptions, though, it’s precious potable drinking water that’s still irrigating plants throughout town. Reclaimed water irrigates Village Green Park, Lang Park, and road medians in South Laguna and landscape in the Seacove parking lot. These areas are served by the South Coast Water District, which has developed a recycled water supply that it distributes in its south-county service area that extends beyond Laguna Beach.

Reclaimed water for irrigation remains a “pipe dream” for city parks served by Laguna Beach County Water District, which lacks a distribution network to transport it or a nearby resource to supply it.

Fortunately, consumption statistics show local residents have curbed their water usage beyond voluntary cutbacks.

The average three-person household uses about 118 gallons per person daily, based on total water consumption divided by population, said Christoper Regan, the assistant general manager for Laguna Beach County Water District.

Looking at consumption based on the average lot size of 6,648 square feet, the average three-person family is using 102 gallons per person daily, though the district allowance is actually 145 gallons per person a day for that lot size, he said. That shows a 30 percent conservation rate, while the governor has asked for 20 percent.

By comparison, the lowest consuming single-family customer in the district, probably living in an apartment with no landscaping, uses just 4 gallons per person per day, said Regan. The largest single-family customer with a lot size of 400,000 square feet uses 898 gallons of water per person per day. But as large as that figure may seem, the district allowance based on lot size is 5,203 gallons per capita daily, so they are only using 17 percent of their budget, said Regan.

Discontinuing irrigation of the medians will conserve roughly the same amount of water used by 10 average households with gardens and lawns, according to the staff report. The city will post signs explaining why the grass is going brown, said City Manager John Pietig. He said some grant money may be available from the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies both Laguna water districts with imported water, to help pay the $145,000 cost of removing the dead turf and replacing it with wood chips. Absent a grant, the Council opted to leave the expired lawn alone until it is renovated alongside the village entrance project.

Ruben Flores, president of the Laguna Beach Beautification Council, asked the Council last month to stop irrigating the median, which he described as a waste of water resources and maintenance costs for mowing. It looks like his plea was heard.


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