In April, 1990, when Magic Mountain unveiled its brand-new Viper roller coaster, thrill seekers feasted their eyes on a bright orange serpentine monster that scaled 18 stories and stretched over 3,830 feet of terrifying track.
But just as important was what they did not see: a surrounding landscape of lush, verdant vegetation--an idea scrapped by park executives in the ride's planning stages because of the excessive amount of water needed to maintain the vegetation. Instead, the jungle theme was jettisoned in favor of a desert setting, complete with rocks and cacti.
Viper became more rattlesnake than python.
The park's decision reflects efforts by San Fernando Valley-area companies toward reducing water use as Southern California squirms in the iron grip of a crippling five-year drought. In the city of Los Angeles in 1988, the last year such statistics were available, non-residential water use accounted for nearly 30% of total consumption.
The potential savings among non-residential customers are therefore significant, said Tom Jamentz, manager of water conservation with the Department of Water and Power.
Exact figures are not available. The amount saved by businesses, however, represents a sizable portion of a 30% drop in consumption from 1986 levels recorded monthly by the DWP since mandatory rationing went into effect this year, officials said.
Accordingly, many large non-residential water users--from theme parks to breweries, foundries to universities--are making an extra effort to hoard an ever-dwindling resource.
"They're changing in order to save water," Jamentz said. "That's what we want everyone to do."
At Magic Mountain, which receives its water from the Valencia Water Co., "water concerns are in the top of our mind now when we theme an attraction," park spokeswoman Bonnie Rabjohn said. She added that conservation has been the rule since the Tidal Wave ride opened with a splash two years ago.
"With Tidal Wave you'd think of a lush, tropical island," Rabjohn said. "But the theming was sand, props and rocks to give it that feel without using a lot of plants that would require a lot of water."
In the Valley, one of the largest non-residential users of water is Cal State Northridge--among the top 20 consumers in Los Angeles overall.
Alan G. MacDonald, CSUN's energy management engineer, said the university uses about 270 million gallons of water a year--enough to keep 100 families well-supplied until the year 2007. Next to landscaping, the biggest guzzlers of water on campus are giant water-cooling towers that chill the air pumped through the university's air-conditioning system.
Water now flows through the towers and evaporates during the cooling process. But following a procedure already adopted by Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, MacDonald hopes to eliminate the cooling towers altogether by drawing cold water from underground aquifers, running it through a modified cooling system, then injecting it back into the ground so that none of the water is lost.
MacDonald estimates that the process could save as much as 300,000 gallons of potable water a day--an amount likely to impress the DWP, which a few years ago would have been leery about allowing the university to tap the Valley's ground water.
"The water basin under the San Fernando Valley has been sacrosanct for a number of years. Initially, I never thought we'd ever be able to do anything like this," MacDonald said. But the worsening drought has made the DWP more flexible about possible conservation methods, he said.
A spokesman for the DWP said approval would be likely once the university finishes a study of the project's feasibility, possibly by early next year.
In industrial Van Nuys many manufacturing facilities are changing the way they do business to scale back the amount of fresh water coursing through their pipes.
As with other water-heavy industrial plants, Superior Industries International, the nation's largest manufacturer of aluminum wheels for the Big Three automakers, is required to cut its use by 10% rather than the 15% imposed in May on residences and most businesses. According to the DWP, Superior's monthly allotment is still a whopping 2.63 million gallons, but last month the company used 1.9 million gallons--a 35% drop from 1986 levels.
"If we continue to save what we did over the past six months," plant manager Bernie O'Neil said, "I estimate we'll save 10.9 million gallons from last year."
Liquid reduction also translates into liquid assets.
O'Neil estimated the cost of water per wheel is down by nearly 25%--no small savings for a facility that produces 1.5 million wheels annually.
"Any company that has any kind of sense is going to look for every way they can to save money" by saving water, Jamentz of the DWP said. "It may cost a little bit up front, but they'll save it on the back end."