More on lawns, water and landscaping laws

DOWNEY - Two weeks ago in a Letter to the Editor, Downey resident Byron Dillon voiced some well-informed observations on watering lawns that both reflected and amplified upon my comments in an article on water use the previous week - on the heels of Downey's first water rate increase in 16 years. One of the points we agreed on was that more than half of most water use is for landscape irrigation.Further, Mr. Dillon referenced a successful water program in Tucson, Ariz., initiated some two decades ago. In fact, the Tucson city website ( details a number of aggressive approaches to water conservation, summarizing their history with the following: "Since 1984, it has been illegal in Tucson to allow water to escape from private property onto another person's property or onto public property such as alleys and streets. The Water Waste and Tampering Ordinance reinforces the message that it is unethical as well as unlawful to waste water in Tucson. Updates to the ordinance were made in 1989 and again in 2000." Here we have a strikingly assertive pronouncement on what amounts to the morality of water conservation. This page and others on the Tucson site go on to detail stiff fines for wasting water, and "water cops" who patrol for water use violations, as well as more positive guidelines and incentives, such as rebates for both residences and businesses, and a very thorough "Homeowners' Guide to Irrigation." Even more significant is that we have such an example right in our own back yard, because the City of Long Beach ( has for the past several years committed to an ambitious carrot-and-stick water conservation strategy with a number of similarities to the Tucson program. For example, as a deterrent to water waste, Long Beach has an anonymous online/telephone system for reporting water-use violations. On the other hand, the city also offers significant incentives for conversion to drought-tolerant landscaping (, including rebates at $2.50 per square foot up to $2,500. In California, presiding over all local measures, AB 1881, the state's "Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance," mandates that its standards "shall be enforced by the local agency, and shall have the same force and effect as if adopted by the local agency." In other words, all California cities are bound by law to water regulations at least as effective as the state's legislation. So we come full circle back to Downey, whose water ordinances have been determined by city staff to be at least equivalent to the state statute, and which in fact reflect many of the rules in effect in both Tucson and, closer to home, in Long Beach. In many ways these rules are equally aggressive, and the city's stance on drought-tolerant landscaping is equally positive. But here's the rub: unless these measures are actively enforced, which obviously would require significant investments of already strapped city resources and staff in a still unfriendly economy, water responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the citizen... where many would argue it should in the first place. Mr. Dillon posted another Letter to the Editor on this same topic in the May 5 edition of the Patriot. Judging from his excellent remarks there, as well as additional thoughtful comments from others, including several links to websites on California-native plants, Downey has conscientious citizens up to the task. Lars Clutterham is a Downey resident and charter member of the city of Downey's Green Task Force and Downey Chamber of Commerce's Green Committee.

********** Published: July 28, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 15