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Robert Smaus

Conserving Water Is a Southland Priority

April 23, 1988|Robert Smaus

It might seem silly to talk about saving water when it is so wet out in the garden, but the seriousness of the situation was made official when Los Angeles announced a water emergency Tuesday, in the middle of a downpour. It only applies to the city and it is a little confusing, because there are two separate problems--one that involves the garden and one that doesn't.

Even though Southern California was blessed with early and substantial rains and even though gardens are downright soggy from all the rain these past two weeks, we are being asked to cut consumption by 10%. The problem is not here but in the Sierra. Several major storms this year missed Northern California and the Sierra, even though we got drenched.

According to Wayne Kruse, Department of Water & Power senior engineer, about 75% of city water comes from the Sierra, and this winter the Sierra received less than half the snowfall it normally gets.

Reservoirs, by the end of summer, will look much like they did the first part of the 1976-77 drought, and if the drought continues into next year, we will definitely come up short.

Other cities in Southern California aren't as concerned because much of their water comes from the Metropolitan Water District, which draws much of its water from the Colorado River, and the Colorado Basin has had several rainy years in a row. Its reservoirs are full. Los Angeles only gets about 10% of its water from the water district, but during a drought may take as much as 25%.

Some cities, such as Santa Barbara, rely mostly on ground water or local reservoirs and they have done all right this year, because Southern California's rainfall was about average, though the run off was down because of oddly spaced storms. Los Angeles only gets about 15% of its water from ground sources.

The other half of the problem is our overtaxed sewer system. Those who fish or boat on Santa Monica Bay or venture out into the surf know that the sewers can't take any more, and on several occasions have overflowed into the ocean, which is not a pretty sight at sea. This will not affect water use in the garden however, only water use in the house, where drains empty into the sewer.

The water running down the gutters doesn't go into the sewer system, but a first step in conserving water would be to fix all lawn sprinklers that overspray and send water into the gutter, though this is easier said than done. It is, however, the most glaring waste of water.

Specifically, we are prohibited from hosing down paved areas such as driveways and patios, and are required to fix leaky faucets. In addition, we are being asked to voluntarily use 10% less water.

According to a DWP engineer, this could be accomplished simply by being sure to water lawns in the early morning so water is not lost to wind and evaporation, and to only water lawns when they need it. Use this as a guide: If the lawns springs back after being walked on, it doesn't need watering yet; if footprints last, it probably does.

Another way to save is to take advantage of the rain we are getting. Those who took this advice last weekend have had the satisfaction of watching Mother Nature water their new plantings. Don't put off spring planting too long, because new plants require the most water and the warmer it gets, the harder it is to keep them watered.

Unfortunately, the DWP says that all this rain we are getting will not make the difference. They say we would need six or seven similar storms to begin to make up for our long dry winter and for last year's drought. All this rain certainly isn't hurting the garden. My plants look downright happy out there in the mud.

The worst weed in my garden has been identified, and the Los Angeles County agricultural office says that it is, indeed, one of the worst, right up there with nutgrass. It is named Nothoscordum inodorum or false garlic, and it does look much like one of the Allium clan of onions and garlic. That is perhaps how it escaped unnoticed in my garden for so long.

It is relatively new to California, but has proved itself on the beaches of Bermuda and throughout much of the South. How it has spread so quickly is not known but a good guess is by the little bulblets that are prodigiously produced by the parent bulb.

These little bulblets quickly mature and form a brown skin, separating themselves from the parent. Because they are no longer attached, the best systemic herbicides, including Roundup, cannot touch them. And because they are brown, they go unnoticed when you attempt to get rid of them by digging up the plants.

There are no known chemical controls, short of fumigating the soil with methyl bromide, which kills everything--even tree roots--and must be done by professionals.

The only way to get rid of false garlic is to dig up every plant, being sure to get every microscopic bulb, and then send them to the dump. But, you must also send a lot of soil with the plant because the only way to make sure none of the little brown bulbs remain is to excavate a nice-size pocket of soil from around where the larger bulb was.

You also must be sure never to let any seeds form because every one of them is sure to germinate. The seedling bulbs are quick to make smaller bulbs themselves and in no time your will have a forest of false garlic.

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