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Drying Out in Lotus Land

Some Los Angeles residents are bound to scoff at the Department of Water and Power’s idea of saving water through the charging of higher rates in summer when usage is highest. After all, they might reason, about 85% of California’s water is consumed by farmers, and that’s where the real savings should be achieved.

Furthermore, the department really is not sure just how much would be saved by charging users more in summer and less in winter, and therefore enticing local residents to save money by using their hoses more sparingly in the hotter months. One official estimated a saving of 2% or 3% of the city’s total supply.

But a 3% saving is not to be sniffed at. That would amount to about 20,000 acre-feet a year, roughly the total now used by 20,000 families. The purchase of that much water from new supplies, if they were available, would run $4 million and up.

As for the farmers vs. the city folks, the California Department of Water Resources believes that the state’s greatest potential for water conservation is in urban areas--an estimated 1 million acre-feet per year by the year 2010, compared with 600,000 acre-feet from agriculture. The major reason is that most irrigation water is used more than once. After it irrigates one field, it often returns to ditches or streams to be used again.

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The fact is that substantial residential water can be conserved without discomfort. Los Angeles cut its water output nearly 20% during the drought year 1977, and there was no substantial hardship. Once the drought was over, however, water consciousness waned and consumption crept back to former levels.

Californians living north of the Tehachapis will be skeptical that the proposed plan is just a political ploy designed to enhance the south’s claim on more Northern California water. Northerners constantly complain that Southlanders waste too much water on swimming pools and constant showering of lawns and landscaping.

Southerners should know that they are not necessarily profligate water wasters. Annual usage during one recent study period showed Los Angeles consuming an average 171 gallons of water per capita per day, compared with 124 in San Francisco, which has more sidewalks and fewer lawns. In Sacramento, where water is not metered, daily use is 291 gallons per person.

With a little effort, Los Angeles not only could achieve substantial savings of water and money, it also could finally overcome the image of lotus-land water squanderers.

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