New Rules on Water: Saving Your 10%

Times Staff Writer

With an emergency water conservation ordinance going into effect today in Los Angeles, how are residents supposed to cope?

Easy, say water conservation experts, who cite a flood of studies showing that, in this metropolis wedged between the desert and the sea, people use water as though they live in a damp climate.

Lawns, gardens, dishwashers, washing machines--even automatic ice makers in refrigerators--all offer opportunities to cut water use by the recommended 10% in a year in which the southern Sierra Nevada got only 25% of its normal snowpack, and just 15% of normal snowpack was recorded in the central and northern Sierra.

The biggest culprits are lawns, which consume vast amounts of water, so much so that nine new city soccer fields being built near Griffith Park will have compacted soil instead of grass.

"One of the easiest things you can do is avoid watering your yard during midday hours when more water is lost to evaporation," according to Gus Dembegiotes, Department of Water and Power's water conservation associate.

"You can also decide to work on landscaping, to get more drought-tolerant plants, and you can put a layer of mulch around trees and plants to slow evaporation . . . put a layer an inch or so thick around trees and other plants," he said. DWP, the Metropolitan Water District and local garden stores can all give advice on ground covers that require little or no watering.

Grass can also be replaced with paving, but the new ordinance bans hosing down concrete surfaces, meaning one more place that has to be swept with a broom.

DWP also offers consumers an easy-to-use lawn watering guide that shows how to get the most benefit from the least water by adjusting sprinklers. To get a guide and other water-saving information call (213) 481-5800. DWP also offers callers free dye tablets that can be dropped in a toilet tank to determine if it leaks into the bowl. Studies show 25% of toilets leak.

Bob Gomperz, an MWD spokesperson, said another way of cutting water bills is to have gutters and downspouts feed into 55-gallon drums, where water collects after rain for later use in gardens. Installing a cover on the swimming pool will save water and cut heating costs.

Gomperz also suggests--for the very dedicated water conservationist--turning off the refrigerator's automatic ice maker and even giving up the garbage disposal, although the later will mean adding to the landfill problem.

The most ubiquitous symbol of Southern California life, the automobile, offers potential for water savings too. Most commercial car washes recycle their water. "For those who insist on washing their own cars at home," Gomperz said, "we recommend you get a nozzle with a spring-loaded grip handle that sprays only when you squeeze it, instead of letting the hose just run while you're soaping the car."

The city's emergency water conservation measures apply to all property in Los Angeles. All building owners must install toilet tank conservation kits (or low-flow toilets) and low-flow shower heads by Oct. 13, with owners of commercial, industrial and triplex or larger residential units required to have a city-approved inspector certify compliance. Owners of single family homes and duplexes will only be required to mail in a form certifying compliance, which will be checked when the home or duplex is sold or remodeled.

Plastic Bags, Shower Heads

In a few months, the city plans to distribute plastic bags that can be filled with water and put in the tanks of conventional toilets, which typically use 8 gallons per flush, according to conservation associate Dembegiotes. The city may also decide to mail coupons that can be redeemed for these devices, he said.

DWP will also distribute either low-flow shower heads or coupons for them. Current plans, however, do not call for these shower heads to include a cut-off lever, which Dembegiotes estimated would add 50 cents to the wholesale cost of each device. John Stodder, Mayor Bradley's environmental aide, said he was surprised to learn that, and said the city will try to find a supplier offering cut-off levers which make it easy to interrupt the flow of water. The ordinance also requires leaky faucets be fixed. Dembegiotes noted that water can also be saved by not letting faucets run while washing vegetables, shaving or brushing teeth. Running dishwasher and clothes washers only with full loads also cuts water use.

For those considering buying new washing machines, a front loader will cost about $100 more, but will return the cost many times over in lower water and energy costs because it uses less than half as much water per load.

Urban dwellers aren't the only ones who must sacrifice because of Mother Nature's dry spell. MWD's board has said if conditions don't improve next winter, it may cut off supplies to those agriculture customers who now get a price break by agreeing to have their water interrupted or restricted in drought years.

Unfortunately, saving water probably won't save Angelenos money because the city-owned DWP has already said it plans to raise rates to maintain revenues. For those who have already installed efficient toilets and shower heads, fixed leaky faucets and replaced lawns with less-water-intensive plants, the drought just means higher water bills.

With its publication in the legal newspaper, Los Angeles Daily Journal, the ordinance will take effect today.

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