View Mobile Site

Ask the Expert

Signal Photos


Lynne Plambeck: Mom, apple pie and water conservation

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: January 27, 2010 6:21 p.m.
Updated: January 28, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Water conservation seems as American as apple pie, a “no-brainer.” If this answer to water supply is really so innocent, then why has it taken so long for our water district, city and county to institute conservation measures?

Because it is really not quite so easy as turning off the water while we brush our teeth and only washing full loads of dishes and clothes. (Which I am sure we are all doing already, right?)

Now come the tougher and more expensive decisions, like landscaping choices. It is estimated between 60 and 70 percent of water in the Santa Clarita Valley is consumed by outdoor landscaping. This is a darn expensive way to use our potable drinking water that has been transported and cleaned to drinking standards at great expense.

Environmentalists have urged a landscape ordinance for several years. Although the Newhall County Water District considered one five years ago, it never instituted drought-tolerant landscaping connection requirements. Why? It was just too much of a hot potato.

Finally last year, the Los Angeles County stepped forward with its sustainable development ordinance that includes requirements to use native plants in open areas.

The state has gotten on board, too, with an even stricter landscape ordinance that now must be followed by all local jurisdictions in California.

As everyone knows from SCOPE’s constant push to preserve our native trees, environmentalists have supported use of native plants for many years. Not only does it reduce outdoor landscape water usage to as little as 30 percent, but also native birds and butterflies will return to our neighborhoods.

You can get some good ideas about landscaping with natives by going to the water districts’ Web sites, including and and the Metropolitan Water District site,

But here’s another new suggestion — why not water a vegetable garden rather than useless grass? As suggested by a story in The Signal last summer, growing your own food instead of a useless green lawn can be fun recreation, as well as a satisfying pastime to ease our stressful lives. Drip irrigation makes this option a water saver.

But water conservation means far more than landscape ordinances. It is really all about local land use. The most efficient and cost-effective way to ensure the reliability of our local water supply is to ensure and enhance our own water basin with good land-use techniques that enhance water conservation.

Such techniques include open pavers in parking lots to allow ground water recharge, instead of simply letting water run down a storm drain. It includes requiring cisterns in new developments to collect roof water, as is now being proposed in the city of Los Angeles. It requires disconnecting rainwater downspouts and using them to water landscaping instead of connecting to storm drains.

Conservation requires protecting the Santa Clara River, its floodplains and its tributaries by requiring setbacks and eliminating proposals that would require concrete channels.

New statewide plumbing codes allow gray water from kitchen and bathroom sinks and showers to be used directly on outdoor landscaping. Such retrofits could redirect a lot of recycled water to outdoor landscaping and save our precious potable resources.

These are harder conservation techniques because the developers don’t want them. They are “too expensive” or too difficult to address. So just let the public pay higher and higher water rates? This is not a fair solution.

Businesses and developers must do their part, too. Some of the biggest water savings and improvements will only come through such land-use changes and requirements. These are tough, but we must require them in order to ensure the reliability of our water supply.

We applaud the City Council for not allowing Newhall Creek to be concreted in a recent development proposal before it. We also think the replacement of grass in medians with native plants, and the new proposal to use moisture indicators and automate sprinklers is great. This is a start.

But now it is time for the hard stuff. It’s time to do a better job of preserving the Santa Clara River. Nothing else will really ensure a sustainable water supply for the Santa Clarita Valley.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.


Most Popular Articles

There are no articles at this time.
Commenting not available.
Commenting is not available.


Powered By
Morris Technology
Please wait ...