L.A.’s driest year: Time to shut off the lawn sprinklers for good

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Southern Californians have been having a lot of fun on Facebook this past week posting weather reports that show the local temperatures well up into the 70s and even the 80s. The wording with it usually goes something like this: You poor idiots living in colder climates, don’t you wish you were smart like I am and lived here instead?

We might have reason to be less thrilled about all this balminess a few months from now. With no rain on the horizon, it’s pretty safe to call 2013 the driest year on record in Los Angeles. The 2013-14 rainy season is off to an unpromising start. And though we know that the beginning of the season doesn’t tell us much — February tends to be the rainiest month — the bottom line is that we need rain. We need it bad.

And the record for arid weather doesn’t belong to Los Angeles alone. It’s statewide.

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Our brown, fire-threatened hills aren’t going to look all that good on Facebook, or in our regional backyard. Rangers and wildlife ecologists worry about long-term changes to our ecosystem if this goes on. Yes, our wild flora are beautifully drought adapted, but it’s believed that they can withstand only a certain number of drought years before giving in. And that gives the edge to invasive annual weeds that only increase the fire danger. And none of this solves the issue of where we turn when our traditional sources of household water are less able to meet our needs, or at least our desires.

We can hope the next three months are wetter than average, but there’s nothing in the long-range forecasts that should lead us to expect it.

But we should be doing better than hoping. We should be moving now toward aggressive water conservation. That includes limits on how much lawn or other water-guzzling landscaping homeowners and businesses can do unless they can show they’re watering with nonpotable water, and not allowing new construction that calls for any form of landscaping other than xeriscaping. It means some limited rationing now in an effort to avoid more drastic rationing later. And we also need some ordinances against that odd practice of sweeping leaves and so forth from sidewalks, streets and driveways by hosing them down.

Early in 2014, proponents of a desalination plant in Huntington Beach will be making their case to The Times’ editorial board. In advance of that meeting, what are your thoughts on desalination as a way to keep the spigots flowing in developed Southern California? Not that it would help the open hills beyond.


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