Take Five: Conserving precious water is everyone's duty

“Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink” — “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Coleridge.

Unlike the poor, thirsty ancient Mariner, we’ve always had a plentiful supply, but water may be the commodity most taken for granted and the most precious and dangerously periled life-sustaining force we have.

The general manager of La Cañada Irrigation District, Doug Caister, born and raised in La Cañada, knows that our water supply is not infinite. I talked with Doug, who has been on the job for an astonishing 54 years. It’s the only job he’s ever had. He’s a real pro. One of the best managers any city could hope for.

He spoke about the forthcoming conservation program, which will be in place from March 18 to March 28. Outside irrigation will be prohibited for those 10 days, though insideusage will still be allowed. This drastic shutoff is the most severe step in Doug’s longtime career.

“It’s darn troubling. Our imported water sources are drying up. We have to face the harsh truth,” Doug says, a few times, during our interview.

The line that provides water to the area will be shut down for maintenance. One of the major feed-system processing facilities located in La Verne will be closed for retrofitting. Doug recommended that this closure take place earlier this year during the rainy season—he knows the negative effect it would have on grass, plants, flowers and trees—but the La Verne plant wasn’t ready for the installation of the new technology.

During the closure, the center medians on Foothill Blvd., as well asparks, schools, church properties and residential backyards are not permitted to be irrigated. There will be no hosing of driveways or patios allowed and all automatic sprinklers must remain off.

We have all seen the small, neat building on Foothill Blvd. next to Armstrong’s Nursery. Inside are glass-enclosed dials that measure water levels in the reservoirs that feed La Cañada Flintridge. These same instruments can register if backyard watering occurs during the 10-day prohibition.

Water-management officials are pleased with the 20% voluntary usage cutback from the 2,900 homes served by La Cañada Irrigation. The same success has been achieved by consumers in the other water districts that serve the Foothills. However, the state has mandated a 20% reduction of water usage by 2020 . The baseline will be 2007 or 2008 usage levels.

Most of our water comes from the Colorado River System, which serves Nevada, Arizona, California and Mexico. The rest comes from the California Canal Water System, in the Delta region in Northern California. We have to keep fighting to draw this water supply. The “smelt-saving” lobby has severely impacted the receipt of water from this region. Conservationists abound trying to reduce our drawing water to Southern California, which has suffered drought conditions for six years.

Of more serious note is the Rockies, which have experienceddrought conditions for 11 years. This is the prime cause of the sinking levels of the Colorado River. We’ve all seen frightening photos of Lake Powell and Lake Mead, both served by the Colorado River. And it came as a shock to me to discover that 95% of our water is imported.

The 2,900 properties served by Mr. Caister’s water district used 2,280 acre feet of water in 2010. This compares to the more than 3,000 acre feet used in 2007. Well, we’re on the right track. The numbers mean that our usage in 2010 is equal to one foot of water spreading across2,280 acres.

If we want to have water, water everywhere, we must conserve our water supplies. We all need to help.

GENE PEPPER is a published author and writer. E-mail him at gpep@aol.com, or call (818) 790-1990.

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