Environment & Science

Drought: OC cities consider synthetic turf, tighter outdoor watering restrictions

Samples of purified water flow from a tap at the Orange County Water District Groundwater Replenishment System plant in Fountain Valley, Calif. The plant takes treated sewage water and turns it into 70 million gallons of drinking water.
Samples of purified water flow from a tap at the Orange County Water District Groundwater Replenishment System plant in Fountain Valley, Calif. The plant takes treated sewage water and turns it into 70 million gallons of drinking water.
Ed Joyce/KPCC

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As the state water board meets to discuss how to parse out cuts to individual water agencies, many Southern California cities are trying to figure out how they will meet their estimated targets.

Both Anaheim and Tustin held public hearings Tuesday evening to discuss options. Santa Ana officials are also wrestling with options. None of the cuts will be easy.

“We really have to think more out of the box,” said Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, who's considering putting down artificial turf in the medians on city streets.

Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order April 1 to cut California’s water consumption by 25 percent through February 2016. To reach that goal, the state Water Resources Control Board has issued targets to local water districts and cities that range from 8 percent to 36 percent.

Tustin has to cut 28 percent - going from 153 gallons to about 112 gallons of water per person, per day, Tustin Council Member Allan Bernstein told KPCC’s Take Two show.

Allen said landscaping eats up most of the city’s water resources. The city has not yet established any outdoor watering restrictions.

“Let’s face it,” he said. “That’s the American Dream, right? Have a beautiful home with a gigantic lawn."

But under a Stage 2 water management plan proposed Tuesday night, Tustin would allow residents to water only twice a week and only in the early mornings or late evenings, for five minutes at each sprinkler station. That would drop to once week between November and March.

“After five minutes, most irrigation becomes run off,” water services manager Art Velasquez said. “Lawns will survive with that.”

Santa Ana has to cut 12 percent, according to the state water board's latest draft.

That's not as bad as some cities because Santa Ana only uses 78 gallons of water per person, per day, according to Pulido, the mayor. That's in part because the city uses a "toilet-to-tap" water reclamation system.

The proposed cuts are causing him to rethink some of the city's policies.

In December 2009, it adopted rules for residents and businesses wanting to install synthetic turf including requiring sign off from the city’s planning division.

Under the city’s design standards, synthetic turf can only cover 50 percent of the front yard and a mixture of sand and rubber must be poured into the turf to keep the blades standing tall and “to provide a natural feel and look.”

The point was to limit its use because it was seen as tacky and would bring down a neighborhood's property values.

“But now because of the water emergency that we are in -  and because turf has gotten a lot better - it’s something that we are getting ready to do,” he said. The South Coast Plaza shopping center in Costa Mesa has turf and he said it looks fine.

The city's considering ripping out water thirsty grass in road medians in favor of turf.

“It’s a one-time conversion and it’s a long, long, long term savings,” Pullido said.

Pulido said the city may offer rebates for residents interested in ripping out their lawns for synthetic turf and waive any permitting fees associated. But none of this has come before the city council for a vote yet.

Anaheim is also pushing turf. Its public utility department will allocate $1 million to help residents and businesses with a zero-interest loan program to encourage more turf replacements projects, according to a staff report.

That city is facing a 20 percent cut and has a firmer plan than many other municipalities.

At its meeting Tuesday night, the Anaheim City Council will take up recommendations by its utility department that it move to stage three of mandatory water conservation restrictions. They include:

The outdoor watering schedule would be divided by odd and even numbered home addresses. Odd numbers would water on Tuesdays and Saturdays; even numbers get Thursdays and Sundays.

The city would issue two warnings to resident found not complying with the restrictions, according to the staff report. A third violation could result in a $500 fine. 

The city is also hoping people will voluntary heed the call to take shorter showers.

And many in Southern California are limiting their use.

“Everyone just wants to know what they need to do and when they need to do,” Tustin resident June Hammerle said at the city council meeting Tuesday night. “People will do it.”

Hammerle said she has already limited watering to twice a week and bought a solar blanket to cover her outdoor pool. But she’s worried about the summer.

“I got two kids coming home from college,” she said. “We’re going to have five showers going everyday.”

The Tustin city council made no decisions on proposed watering restrictions Tuesday night. Nor did it vote on a recommendation by Tustin city staff recommends to get tough on fines for violations.

They want residents caught watering lawns after 10 a.m. or before 6 p.m. to be fined $100. Repeat violators would gets slapped with increasing fines, from $200 to as high as $500 for the fifth and sixth violations.

This story has been updated.