Long Beach Exceeds June Conservation Mark; May Lose Lawn-To-Garden Program

The Long Beach Water Department (LBWD) announced today that in the first month of California’s mandatory water usage reporting period, the City of Long Beach exceeded its assigned conservation mark of 16 percent, reducing its water usage from last June by 19 percent.

The June water usage was the lowest on record since 1956 as the city consumed just over 4,300 acre-feet of water. The 19 percent reduction in water consumption over June of 2013—the benchmark year used by the State—exceeded the mark set by the State Water Resources Control Board by three percent.

The mandates were put in place after Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order in April calling for the state to meet a 25 percent conservation mark for urban water usage.

The report drew praise from Mayor Robert Garcia who lauded the city’s ongoing conservation efforts.

“Long Beach is off to an incredible start to meet the state’s cutbacks,” Garcia said in a statement. “I'm very proud of the effort by our residents, businesses, schools and very own water department. We continue to lead statewide.”

The June numbers are a good start to what’s expected to be a hot and dry summer, something that LBWD General Manager Kevin Wattier acknowledged will make it hard to replicate the same kind of conservation success in the next few months.

“July is going to be a little tougher, but this is a cumulative thing, so the three percent extra we saved in June counts toward the overall number,” Wattier said. “I’m sure we’ll do well in July but it’s not going to be as easy and that’s the bottom line.”

Wattier said that the biggest factor that creates change in water consumption is irrigation behaviors, as people are less willing to alter how often they shower or wash dishes.

The department’s Lawn-to-Garden program which has replaced over 1.5 million square feet of turf with drought-tolerant landscaping, has been an effective tool in getting residents to save water. However, the funds that allowed for the department to pay $3.50 per square foot—a figure that was set in July 2014—may soon dry up.

Two weeks ago, the Metropolitan Water District announced that it would be shutting down its Lawn-to-Garden program due in part because of the demand of people wishing to convert their lawns exceeding the money it allocated for residential conversions.

The MWD discontinuing its program also means that the funding it provided to Long Beach will also stop. Of the $3.50 per square foot the LBWD payed for lawn conversions, the MWD subsidized $2.00 of the cost.

Wattier said the department received that news after the LBWD Board of Water Commissioners voted to approve its budget for the next fiscal year. The move will force the LBWD into some tough decisions regarding its Lawn-to-Garden program, of which Wattier said he was unsure which direction the Board would go. Losing the program would strip the department of a critical tool because, according to Wattier, making a drastic change to one's home serves as a constant reminder that is effective in curtailing water wasting.

“It’s unfortunate that they [Metropolitan Water District] didn’t structure their program a little bit differently, because what’s happening is they ended up spending huge amounts of money on commercial and industrial properties which we think virtually the entire focus of this program should be on residential,” Wattier said. “That’s where you get the benefit of changing the behavior and the beliefs of people. That to us is the purpose of the program.”

According to the department, zero fines were issued for the month of June. The number of reported water wasters has also dipped, while the department has moved swiftly to address frequent abusers of the water use restrictions in place in the city.

Starting tomorrow, a series of “involuntary smart meters” will be installed at homes that have been found in frequent violation of the departments' water use restrictions. 

Wattier said that the list of addresses was compiled using a database with over 16,000 logged complaints that has been curated by the department since 2008. By cross-referencing particular problem addresses and monitoring water usage, the department targeted a group of homes that will now have smart meters placed at their addresses to allow the LBWD to monitor their water consumption.

“Over the next week or so, we’re going to be establishing a new target group of about 40 customers who we get a lot of complaints about and we’ll see what we find,” Wattier said. “We’re putting the meter on, it’s our decision. We’re telling them about it, it’s not something they asked for.”

The proactive measures taken by the department to spur the community into getting on board with water conservation won't stop at the meter. The LBWD will launch a conservation campaign called “Mission H20 LB” with a July 18 event attended by Garcia.

Wattier’s assistant, Kaylee Weatherly described the campaign as a way to “unite Long Beach to help our community meet the Governor’s mandate, while also creating a permanent lifestyle change that incorporates water conservation into our daily behaviors.” She said additional details would be announced soon, most likely by the mayor at the July 18 unveiling.


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