Californians Are Trying So Many Things to Save Water, and That’s a Good Thing

New study underscores importance of low-tech conservation in addition to high-tech infrastructure.

An L.A. resident waters his drought-resistant garden. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

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Water conservation is an ongoing struggle for Californians in the midst of the state’s fourth consecutive year of drought, and Governor Jerry Brown’s crackdown on water usage. With mandatory statewide restrictions forcing municipal utilities to get creative, residents are pitching in too. Some are taking shorter showers. Some are gobbling up rebate money for ripping out lawns.

And some are putting in pools?

A group of lobbyists is advocating for more backyard swimming pools — alleging that less nature and more hardscaping means water savings. Let’s Pool Together is an entire campaign dedicated to the idea. (A Gizmodo post covering the effort has the headline, “Want to Save Water? Build a Pool, Says the Pool Industry.”)

Californians reportedly built or rebuilt 11,000 swimming pools last year — the most since 2007. Some local water agencies are banning the filling of pools, but others are leaning toward flexibility.

“We went back and did the math, and we found that with a pool and the associated decking around it, a pool can actually use less water than grass,” Jonathan Volzke of the Santa Margarita Water District in Orange County told NPR. “And if pool covers are used and the project is big enough, it can actually be as efficient as California-friendly plants.”

Less controversial are the rapidly expanding “cash for grass” programs that offer homeowners money for taking out water-craving green lawns.

California Water Districts are struggling to keep up with the program’s demand. NPR reports that the San Diego turf rebate program had an initial budget of $750,000. It began giving homeowners $1.50 for every square foot of ripped-out grass in mid-April. That initial budget has now been spent, and the rebates won’t pick up again until July.

According to a San Jose Inside article about designing more sustainable landscapes, a recent study of a Melbourne drought found smaller changes were key to that city’s survival of a long dry spell.

… A study released last week underscored the importance of low-tech conservation in addition to high-tech infrastructure. … By the end of the drought in 2009, the Australian city of 4.3 million had cut its water consumption in half, largely through low-cost solutions like rainwater tanks, water-efficient toilets, showerheads and washing machines and capturing storm water runoff.

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Marielle Mondon is an editor and freelance journalist in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in Philadelphia City Paper, Wild Magazine, and PolicyMic. She previously reported on communities in Northern Manhattan while earning an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University.

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Tags: resilient citiescaliforniawaterdrought

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