YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections
(Page 2 of 2)

Well-Made Plans Keep Palm Springs an Oasis in a Drought : Water: Officials say criticism is unjustified because they take care in pumping from underground reserves.


Then there is reclaimed water--the fancy term for highly treated sewage. The Desert Water Agency, which serves Palm Springs and Cathedral City, opened a state-of-the-art reclamation plant in 1988 and plans to double its capacity in the coming years. Already, the facility churns out about 3 million gallons of treated waste water a day, pumping it to several Palm Springs parks and ball fields, the municipal golf course and private links.

"At first, the golf course people were afraid the (reclaimed water) would smell and be slimy," said Ron Baetz, spokesman for the Desert Water Agency. "Now they love it. They especially love the price, because it's half the rate (of potable water)."

There are attempts to be progressive on the landscaping front as well. At the water agency headquarters, a veritable wonderland of desert plants grow in a sort of outdoor laboratory, including flowering sage, blooming ocotillos, exotic grasses and other drought-tolerant specimens.

Around town, the vegetation results are more mixed. The newer buildings--the senior citizens complex and the convention center, for instance--are surrounded by boulders and native vegetation scattered attractively atop crushed rock. Many of the downtown planting beds have been redesigned, and now use only a narrow necklace of grass around more water-efficient selections. Overall, the city reduced its landscape water usage 10% over the last five years while at the same time adding parkland.

But image can be everything, and running up the center of one of the city's main thoroughfares--Tahquitz-McCallum Way--is a wide band of turf accented with colorful petunias. Even the most novice gardener knows the rap on turf--it's a water-guzzler. Why not replace it with a less thirsty species?

"We've tried to integrate the desert-style landscaping, but it just doesn't appeal to a lot of people," said Terry Lortz, the city's park and golf course superintendent. "The tourists want to see that lush grass and those bright flowers. They're from back East, they've been in the snow. When they come here, they want to feel like they're in Shangri-La."

The mayor agreed: "You can't have all dirt and cactus. In my opinion, Palm Springs isn't lush enough."

Specifically, Bono said he believes some businesses have gone too far with the concept of xeriscape--or desert-style vegetation. A new Motel 6 in town, for instance, is surrounded by a rather sparse collection of drought-tolerant selections.

"I'm not real happy with that," Bono said. "They can't put in a cactus and throw up a wooden tree and tell me that's their desert theme."

As for Palm Springs residents, at least one nursery worker reports that there is little interest in xeriscaping. Instead, according to the Sunrise Nursery employee, most people favor "the dense, tropical look."

"I hope that doesn't become popular," the nurseryman said with a grimace when asked whether he thought drought-tolerant plants might catch on in the resort city. "This is Palm Springs. We're not Tucson."

Joan and Bo Mayne, however, seem to see things differently. The retired couple, recent transplants to Palm Springs, were examining the nursery's small cactus section one recent day, looking for something to augment their patio collection.

"It's funny, but people don't seem too concerned about water out here," Bo Mayne mused. "It's as if we're not even in the desert."

Los Angeles Times Articles