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L.A. may relax some tough watering restrictions

Homeowners will continue to be limited to watering on Mondays and Thursdays. But city parks and large parcels of land, including cemeteries, may be allowed to water more often.

July 23, 2009|David Zahniser

One month after the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power barred residents from watering on days other than Mondays and Thursdays, city officials are looking at loosening the law for the city's parks department and other large landowners.

With temperatures exceeding 100 degrees in the San Fernando Valley, the parks department secured an emergency exemption earlier this week that would allow it to water parks and athletic fields on any day of the week until the law is rewritten, said Jon Kirk Mukri, general manager of the Department of Recreation and Parks.

"All the Valley parks are turning brown," he said. "It's not that one is worse than the other. They're all showing stress."

The DWP's Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to recommend that the City Council change its watering law so that large property owners -- including cemeteries, golf courses, colleges and school districts -- can irrigate more frequently as long as they show that they have reduced their water use by 20%.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, July 30, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 69 words Type of Material: Correction
Water restrictions: An article in the July 23 Section A said the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power bars ratepayers from watering outdoors on days other than Mondays and Thursdays. The DWP only prohibits the use of sprinklers on days other than Mondays and Thursdays. Hand-watering -- using a hose with a nozzle -- is allowed on a daily basis, although not between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Mukri said his agency has cut water consumption by 40% over the last two years and will continue installing drought-friendly irrigation systems. Griffith Park, five city golf courses and a few other park facilities already use recycled water and are therefore allowed to water on a daily basis, he said.

Still, the notion of an emergency deal for the parks department drew fire from one outspoken critic of the DWP's water policies, who complained that the average ratepayer gets no such consideration.

"I think the city needs to follow its own rules," said David Coffin, a member of the Westchester-Playa del Rey Neighborhood Council.

Last year, the DWP banned watering between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and prohibited restaurants from serving water unless a customer specifically requested it.

On June 1, the DWP also limited outdoor watering to Mondays and Thursdays.

Councilman Tom LaBonge, who introduced a motion to allow daily watering at city parks and golf courses, said the existing rules have affected not only the grassy turf but also the health of the city's trees and the greens at its golf courses. If the grass on those greens dies, replacement could be costly, according to park officials.

Councilman Tony Cardenas, who represents part of the Valley, said he had noticed the effect of the drought on Ritchie Valens Park in Pacoima and Branford Park in Arleta.

The DWP hopes to secure a council vote Friday on the reworked water law. Utility officials said the changes would give flexibility to ratepayers with more than three acres that need landscaping.

Property owners would be eligible if they have a "business necessity" or provide a benefit to the public, DWP officials said.

Although the parks department is now allowed to water its facilities on additional days, that option will be unavailable to other large property owners until the council approves the changes to the law.

Coffin, who also is running for state Assembly, said the city would take its conservation policies more seriously if it experienced the effects firsthand.

"As much as I hate to say it, the only way to force them to address the overall water situation is to let those things turn brown," he said.

Mukri disagreed, saying that parks deserve special consideration because they are open to everyone.

"I couldn't just come up with a picnic basket and jump on your front lawn," he said.

"As people's lawns die, they're going to need a refuge and we can provide that," he said.

"I live in North Hollywood and I adhere to the [water conservation] ordinance," Mukri said. "And I can tell you right now, my lawn is dead."

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

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