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Wasting Water Pours Our Future Down the Drain

August 16, 2003|Henry D. Schlinger | Henry D. Schlinger is a lecturer in the psychology department at Cal State Northridge.

Once again we find ourselves in the heat of summer in Southern California, providing another reminder that much of the area is a desert environment; the average yearly rainfall in downtown Los Angeles is only about 14 inches. According to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, a mere 14% of our water supply comes from groundwater from local wells. The other 86% comes from the eastern Sierra Nevada and the Colorado River.

People may not be aware of these facts because our water seems to be as abundant as the sunshine. Further proof that many Southern Californians do not appreciate the preciousness of our water can be found in some of the ways we use it.

For example, the other day I watched for 10 minutes as a neighbor used a hose to move a small pile of leaves from his sidewalk into the alley and down the alley toward the street. In light of the scarcity of our water this scene seemed surreal. I wondered how many gallons of water he had just wasted using the hose as an ersatz rake. But he is not alone. Every day, thousands of homeowners and gardeners in Southern California use water from hoses instead of brooms and rakes to clear debris from driveways, sidewalks and streets.

In addition, many businesses regularly hose down the driveways, sidewalks and streets around their establishments. Once a week an automobile dealership near my home hoses down the entire lot plus the sidewalk and two streets in front of the business.

The DWP prohibits such wasteful water use and has a policy to impose fines for "using water on hard surfaces such as sidewalks, walkways, driveways or parking areas." I wonder if anyone knows about this policy.

Another wasteful practice is watering lawns and greenery during the hottest part of the day, wasteful because much of the water evaporates before getting into the ground. Even government agencies are guilty. For example, Caltrans frequently turns on the sprinklers on the sides of freeways during the hottest part of the day.

The DWP prohibits watering lawns between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., April 1 to Sept. 30 and between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., Oct. 1 to March. I once called the DWP about Caltrans' obvious misuse of water and was told that the agency had been informed, but I still see the sprinklers on at high noon in the summer.

When I was growing up and didn't yet understand the value of working hard for one's money, my parents used to ask me whether I thought money grew on trees. When I see Southern Californians pouring water onto the sidewalks and lawns, I feel compelled to ask them where they think we get all our water.

It should be a no-brainer that Southern Californians ought to be more careful in their use of water. Ultimately, we are the ones who will pay down the road with higher water bills or, worse, with mandatory water rationing.

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