As the dire state of the drought continues, the city of Paso Robles has tightened its summer irrigation limits and encouraged residents to ditch their lawns for drought-tolerant landscaping.
But what landscaping practices have leaders in San Luis Obispo County’s second largest city taken?
A drive-by photo tour of all five Paso Robles City Council members’ homes on the week of June 29 shows that most are responding, as evidenced by browning lawns or already-installed drought-tolerant landscapes.
A similar recent review of City Council members’ yards in San Luis Obispo — the county’s largest city — found that all five council members were working to conserve water where they could, reflecting their city’s push for cuts in water usage.
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In Paso Robles, homes and businesses can only water their yards two days a week from May through September, compared to three days a week in previous years.
That means that most residential grass will not survive the city’s hot summer.
All of the council members said they were following the new rules, but some have gone above and beyond by cutting back on showers or planning to rip out their grass.
After reflecting on his water bill for this story, Councilman John Hamon said he will look into whether his irrigation system has a leak because of the high water use on his 3-acre property.
Paso Robles must reduce its water consumption by 28 percent between June 2015 and February 2016, compared with 2013.
Residents have been cutting back: In June, the first month that the state’s compliance period began, citywide water use dropped 29.5 percent compared with June 2013, according to the city.
On July 7, the Paso Robles City Council approved penalties for single-family residential water consumers who use more than 25 units of water per month — or 18,700 gallons. (A unit is 748 gallons.)
Penalties will be calculated on September usage, with a $10 penalty per unit for those who use between 25 and 50 units per month and $20 per unit for those who use 50 units a month or more.
The city’s goal was to penalize its largest water consumers, in an effort to get those users to cut back. That’s because 78 percent of residential city customers used 25 units or less during 2014 summer months; while the other 22 percent of customers accounted for nearly half of the city’s residential consumption.
In May, Paso Robles residents used an average of 93 gallons of water per person per day, according to the state. For a two-person household, that would be 5,766 gallons or less than eight units of water.
Here is a look at the water consumption of the Paso Robles City Council from largest to lowest.
Hamon has a two-person household on three acres on the west side of town. He is the only council member with that much property.
When interviewed, he said his household used 37 units of water from April 30 to May 31, with a monthly average of 35 units over March, April and May. Thirty-seven units is 27,676 gallons.
That makes Hamon the largest water consumer among the council members — consuming more than six times the amount of water than Mayor Steve Martin’s two-person household uses.
Hamon estimates that 10 percent to 15 percent of his three acres is landscaped. The front yard is mostly a concrete driveway with some landscaping around the front door. That includes a Japanese red leaf maple tree and plants such as agapanthus, day lily, flax and various perennial flowers, his landscaper John Tubbs said.
When they designed the house 13 years ago, the Hamons opted for drip irrigation.
In the backyard, Hamon says they have a spa and roughly 1,100 square feet of grass for the grandkids.
“I’m not sure why our bill would be higher than the other (councilmen),” he said. “We’ll have to start looking for a leak.”
Reed has a two-person household on the east side of town. He said he and his wife use about 20 units per month in the summer. Reed said he’s reduced irrigation to two days a week with the rest of the city, but has no plans to rip out the lawn in the front or back because his wife likes having a lawn and her rose bushes.
Reed is also annoyed by the state’s latest water restrictions, noting that he voted against them when the city adopted the two-day watering schedule this summer, and feels like Paso Robles residents have cut back enough. “We’ve already been conserving, and now our lawns are going dead. Hopefully it rains soon, and this will all be moot.”
Martin has a two-person household on the east side of town, and used 6 units of water from April 30 to May 31, he said, reading from his latest water bill.
He said that he and his wife haven’t taken out any landscaping or added any, and have followed the city’s mandated watering schedule through the years.
“We have very little landscaping to start with,” he said. “I basically have two dying lawns. We intend to let it die out and eventually switch it out with drought-tolerant landscaping.”
The front yard is split by some browning grass near the front of the house, with a separate section of drought-tolerant plants and larger rocks as the yard slopes toward the sidewalk. Also out front is a rose bush, daffodils — dying from lack of water — and a hedge, he said. The side yard has gravel and dirt leading to the back yard, which has some dying grass, two fruit trees and some bushes.
The Martins water two days a week with sprinklers they move around manually.
But a row of small green plants growing in between the rocks along their front walkway get special treatment from water the couple captures from their bath as the shower heats up.
Those plants get watered daily with two child-sized sand pails from that cold shower water.
“When you start becoming aware of how much water you’re using, you realize how much goes down the drain, and it’s ridiculous,” Martin said.
Inside, they also use low-flow toilets, low-flow shower heads and a water-efficient washing machine, he said.
Gregory has a two-person household on the west side of town. He used nearly 4 units of water from April 30 to May 31, which he says is pretty typical for him and his wife.
“We had some lawn when we first bought, but mostly a lot of annuals and a lot of stuff that used a lot of water,” he said.
When they bought the home about eight years ago, they switched to drip irrigation and in 2009 converted to drought-tolerant plants, he said. They tweak it more every year, Gregory said. Today, the foliage includes low-water users such as oaks, Russian sage and some ornamental plants. They also have almond trees.
“Right now we’re also hand monitoring the drip system and not leaving it up to the electrical device because if you have a leak, it could get pretty disastrous pretty quick,” he said.
Inside, the couple is mindful of their bath and shower use.
Strong also has a two-person household on the east side of town. His home backs up to the Paso Robles Golf Club.
He said he never irrigates outside, but suspects some long-established trees and bushes on his property have root systems that get water from the golf course.
“I stopped all watering of landscaping eight years ago because I saw this coming. I knew we had to do this,” he said. “My wife and I are down to 2.5 or 3 units of water per month — it’s necessary.”
Over the past two years, he said they’ve lost several bushes to the drought, since the landscaping otherwise depends solely on rain.
Out front, Strong has bare dirt covered in pine needles from his trees.
He and his wife started significantly cutting back on their water use indoors in October 2014, after having many guests visit that summer, and the household consumed as much as 12 units in July, August and September that year.
Before that, the family used about 6 units a month, as they often have grandchildren visiting.
Some of the ways they conserve inside the house is by Strong’s method of bathing once a week in the bath, but doing quick washcloth rinses by the sink most days.
“When I was a little boy, my mother didn’t have a shower, just a bathtub, so we took a bath once a week and then did sponge bathing (otherwise),” he said.
In the backyard, Strong has trees, bushes and dirt. When he changes out a 5-gallon bucket of drinking water he sets outside for their cats, he says he dumps the old water on the bushes to help them along.