What is Cambria’s secret? Whatever it is, could Cambrians please share it with the rest of the county?
We’re talking about Cambria’s extraordinary track record when it comes to conserving water. As reported on Page 1 of The Tribune, it’s the only local community where residents are meeting the governor’s plea that we all reduce water use by 20 percent.
If anything, Cambrians are overachieving, if there is such a thing as overachieving in a severe drought.
Water use in the first half of 2014 was down nearly 31 percent in Cambria compared to water use in the first half of 2013. That’s remarkable; no other local community achieved those kinds of numbers. Only Templeton, at 15.4 percent, made it close to the goal of 20 percent reduction.
(The figures don’t include water users with private wells, such as vineyards and other commercial agriculture.)
Officials in some communities pointed out that they already put water conservation measures in place years ago, making it harder to find new ways to conserve. Fair enough. However, that doesn’t explain why a few communities — San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach, Morro Bay and Santa Margarita — actually increased water consumption.
Based on those figures, it’s obvious that something must change. It doesn’t make sense to squander water — even in those communities that have an adequate supply — when we don’t know how long the drought will persist. Even worse, some scientists warn that drought could be the new normal for California.
What to do?
Some California communities have hired water cops and are slapping fines on individuals caught watering lawns or hosing off driveways, in violation of local regulations.
Locally, though, water purveyors are relying mostly on tiered water rates to discourage waste. In other words, water wasters pay exponentially more than frugal consumers.
That makes sense, though when we’re dealing with a limited resource like water, it’s galling to think that the wealthy might continue to maintain huge expanses of green lawn, never mind the cost.
Consider, too, that there isn’t always a direct correlation between high water rates and conservation. According to a 2014 water rate survey by the Atascadero Mutual Water Co., the cities of San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay have some of the most expensive water in the county, yet those are among the communities where water consumption increased the first half of this year.
So if high bills aren’t enough of an incentive to save water, what is?
As we’ve said before, we aren’t huge fans of “water shaming.” Making someone feel guilty for occasionally taking an extra-long shower after work or for letting their kids have a water balloon fight seems awfully intrusive.
But we do have to draw a line in the sand somewhere, and landscaping — which can eat up half or more of a household’s water supply — is an obvious place to start.
As reported in today’s Page 1 story, Bret Harrison of Paso Robles tore out his lawn because he’s “ethically opposed to having a lawn just for the sake of cosmetic appeal.”
We have to agree. What good is a front lawn that’s never used? (By the way, we’ve heard some homeowners are digging up their lawns and replacing them with artificial turf — only to be chastised by their homeowners association. We hope that’s no more than a nasty rumor.)
And it isn’t just homeowners who are holding on to their lawns too long. Look at just about any business district, and chances are, you’ll see patches of lawn that could be replaced by less thirsty groundcover, or even better, arock garden.
Local communities already have development standards that require drought-tolerant landscaping and low-flow fixtures in new homes; many also have incentives for existing homeowners willing to retrofit.
That’s good, but we could do more.
The figures on water consumption — coupled with declines in local groundwater basins — show that we need to get more serious about conservation, across the board.
Again, we applaud Cambria; it’s obviously doing something right.
The rest of us still have a way to go.