Descanso Gardens hosts first Water Symposium, featuring drought talk from JPL scientist

There was not a more opportune time for Descanso Gardens to deliver a full, drenching day of water-wise education.

At its inaugural Water Symposium on Saturday, Feb. 6, all water conservation consciousness collided at a time when many Southern California residents are thinking about El Niño and the state’s ongoing drought. Events ranged from rain harvesting, planning a native plant garden, information gathering from local water utility providers and even a sommelier water tasting.

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Many attended the afternoon talk breaking down the truth behind “climate whiplash” with Bill Patzert, research scientist of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Patzert began his talk comparing rainfall totals in downtown Los Angeles from 1945 and 2015, and noted his confidence in Gov. Jerry Brown’s efforts to educate Californians about water conservation.

Patzert showed a slide of Lake Mead in Nevada and described it as L.A.'s “drought barometer,” — and a historical 70% of its volume is gone. Patzert also highlighted the L.A. basin’s population explosion between 1902 and 2015.

“It’s quadrupled from 5 million to 20 million,” he said. “Agriculture has doubled. We’re in droughts that aren’t natural. It’s us. We were living in the Roman Empire with our water. That’s no more.”

There’s been a “tremendous” redistribution of heat in the Pacific, Patzert said, and cited the countering cooler and dry conditions from La Niña having an effect. He added that Southern California has not “transitioned” toward a path of more rain while the East Coast and Midwest have been slammed by blizzards.

“I’m still guaranteeing the rain,” he said. “If you look at it, this winter it’s been more or less normal. The big show hasn’t showed up yet.”

The message to residents was to ultimately be patient and continue conserving indefinitely.

“It’s the new lifestyle,” he said. “We’re on track. This is the best winter we’ve had in five years, with snow pack. Don’t be too grumpy.”

Elsewhere in Descanso Gardens, members of the Foothill Municipal Water District, Glendale Department of Water and Power, Burbank Department of Water and Power and the Crescenta Valley Water Department each held booths to provide updates on local, regional and statewide water conservation efforts.

Dan Drugan, water program technician for the Foothill Municipal Water District, said their moisture meter giveaway was really popular.

“Check your plants,” he said. “It tells the water level in your soil.”

Members of the Theodore Payne Foundation had tables full of California native plants for sale.

“People are looking for erosion control,” said Lili Singer, director of special projects and adult education at the foundation.

Singer said sages are always popular for their pretty smell, as well as toyon, the official native plant of the City of Los Angeles.

Fancy waters from all over the world were available for sampling over at a table hosted by Martin Riese, water sommelier. Katherine Brent, an English native from Studio City, said she enjoyed the Hildon brand taste, as well as the French sparkling mineral brand Roi.

Matt Sanderson is a contributing writer.