Beating the drought

Dear Editor: As a new resident of only one year, I have to say that I am very happy to call Downey my city. Purchasing a home here through some hard work, a bit of sacrifice, and a little luck has become the fulfillment of a personal American Dream. I look forward to being a part of this established yet still growing town.

However, as a new Downey resident, I have a piece of constructive criticism. True, this criticism is not exclusive to Downey and can be applied to many places in the Southwest. Still, because this is now home and a little fault-finding can be a seed of change, I’ll lay it out here:

Downey, you must end your long-standing love affair with your lawn.

I get that a green and manicured lawn looks great, that the concept of a lawn is a part of white-picket-fence Americana, that, at the end of the day, it’s your house and your lawn and you’ll do what you damn-well please with it.

I get it.

However, in the face of the worst drought in California recorded history, these justifications are starting to sound more like excuses. Yes, we can talk about the agricultural sector using 80% of the state’s water but there are things that we can all do here and now. With landscaping being up to 70% of your water bill every month, your lawn is a great place to begin.

Start small, perhaps a corner section of the yard, the one that gets too much sun and requires too much water. I’m not saying you should have a barren patch of dirt as a substitute either - there are plenty of California native plants and trees that are drought tolerant, require a fraction of water use, and offer exceptional beauty. As an added bonus, native plants attract native insects and birds.

I’m not proposing you dig up your lawn tomorrow - these changes take some planning, effort, and a little money. Still, with the continuing drought and an upcoming summer that promises record-breaking temperatures, it’s about time we start rethinking our increasingly inconvenient love affair with our lawn.

Osvaldo Gomez



Dear Editor:

We have noted many good recommendations from your readers on how to conserve water. As Downey homeowners for close to 60 years, we have a few suggestions on how to reduce watering costs of lawns, and this with spending little money.

In fact, you may save your money along with saving your landscaping.

(1) Do not let your gardener mow your lawn every week.

(2) Plant shade trees on front lawns..

Even without the impetus of this drought, mowing every other week is better for the lawn. The shade trees may cause a bit more maintenance because of falling leaves, but this is a small price to pay for the huge benefit to your lawn, your water conservation – and even your house.

We have been living in our North Downey house for 55 years, and our trees all around the house plus attic insulation is all the house cooling we need - that is, with the exception of a small air conditioner in our bedroom for the few nights of the year when it is exceptionally hot.

As for our well-shaded front lawn, we noted long ago that mowing every two weeks is too much. With the onset of mandatory water reduction, our gardener mows every four weeks. And even with our “no-name” grass, we are proud to have one of the most beautiful lawns on our block.

On another subject, we are thrilled to read how quickly the Downey Police was able to locate a stolen car. But such need not to happen in the first place. When we leave our cars even for a minute, we lock them. It has become an ingrained habit over the years, so we lock automatically.

And a minute is all it took for the auto theft that was reported in the Downey Patriot.

Gerald and Ingrid Altman



Dear Editor:

I wish there was a “comment” section in Letters to the Editor, because I could have wholeheartedly agreed with Jack Russell’s letter on water wasters. (Letters to the Editor, 3/19/15)

The city of Downey has me confused. In a period of all-time drought, water restrictions are nil. Since the biggest waste of water is landscaping, that should be the focus. But when other cities are imposing watering days, it’s common for people here to water their lawns four times a week …and that includes the untenanted McMansions dotting our neighborhood. When wells are running dry and the snowpack is at yet another “all time” low, our city does next-to-nothing to promote conservation and xeriscaping.

Yes, the City of Downey is very fortunate in its water resources, being right next to the San Gabriel River - a major “recharge” source for LA basin aquifers - and “upstream” of all other users. But our aquifer is already below average, and if the drought extends for another five years our aquifer will be at an “all time” low. And what happens if the drought extends for another five years after that? There’s no assurance that this drought won’t turn into a megadrought, like the 14-year Millennium Drought which scorched Australia and dried up the Murray River.

And if you want to know how ugly a drought can get, even in a developed country, you should read National Geographic’s “Australia’s Dry Run”, when sheepherders battled wheat farmers and vineyards fought with olive growers, when generations of farming ended in bust or suicide, and the cities battled everyone else for water. That could happen here too.

No, the city of Downey can’t save the Central Valley. But we should at least assure our own water-resource future by conserving our still-plentiful aquifer. In addition to tiered water pricing, the city could temporarily exempt brown lawns from code violations (provided that trees and shrubs were still healthy and the property was otherwise maintained). It could promote xeriscaping by including a special category for Beautification Awards, and provide at least a nominal reimbursement for lawn removal- simply to spread the message that the city approves and promotes the activity.

It could clarify its code on graywater, and use more drought-tolerant California natives in its own plantings. It could be more effective in its own “runoff” water -quality plans to improve and conserve rainwater (and no, straw-rolls don\’t make effective storm drain filters). It might think twice about adding more residential units for the time being. In might even look at converting one of the golf courses to a general park, which will open up greenspace for more residents and improve utilization per CCF of water. I’m sure there are plenty of even better ideas out there, with thoughtful people just waiting for a chance to express them. Maybe a general meeting on the topic might be in order.

Governor Brown has just mandated water savings of 25%. This isn’t extreme or extraordinary. In fact, it’s right in line with the projected long-term rainfall for Southern California. It should not be seen as a short-term response to drought, or a mandate meant to be paid lip service to and then skated around, but a realistic plan for our long-term prospects.

Maybe with Governor Brown’s not-so-subtle kick-in-the-pants, the city will find more effective ways to conserve water for the future.

Joan Niertit




Published: April 9, 2015 - Volume 13 - Issue 52