Water Flows in Los Angeles Despite Drought

Although Los Angeles is in the grips of its driest year on record residents are shrugging off calls to conserve water amid fears the drought will become more stringent before summer's end.

Since last July, the city has gotten barely 3 inches of rain when 12 inches a year is normal.

But even as parts of Los Angeles sizzle in the summer's first big heat wave, water is flowing everywhere.

On a tree-lined street filled with lush lawns in a south Los Angeles neighborhood, Art Ajamian is giving his private patch of grass, and several robust rose bushes, a good dousing with a garden hose.

Asked whether he waters the lawn every morning, he says, "No, no, twice a week."

Ajamian says he has cut back, trying to meet city officials' calls to conserve water by 10 percent; but he doesn't want to lose his lush lawn to the heat wave either.

"It's turning brown, the whole grasses. I have to take care of that. It's going to cost me later on a lot of money if I don't water it," he said.

Ajamian's neighbor must feel the same way judging by his soaked sidewalk.

What a difference from previous Los Angeles droughts when hosing down a driveway or excessive water use could have rendered a fine.

These days Los Angeles' Department of Water and Power (DWP) sends out a warning letter – but with little threat of punishment.

David Nahai of the DWP says this time around there's no reason to call for drastic measures.

"Just as we are having the driest year on record this year, last year we had the wettest year on record," said Nahai, adding that that has led to huge supply.

Area reservoirs are stocked, storage capacity is good and there is still water in the underground acquifers, he said. And, Angelinos are using less water than they did 20 years ago, even after adding a million new residents.

But Jeff Kitelinger of southern California's Metropolitan Water District worries about dry conditions lasting into next year and beyond.

"We are worried that these conditions could continue and make us want to conserve as much as possible, and keep our reservoir levels as high was we can," said Kitelinger.

The Metropolitan Water District boosted its public relations budget relative to water conservation by $5 million dollars this month to buy radio airtime during the mornings.

"It's a record dry year so we all need to save water now to be prepared for later. Come on California, let's save water. Go to BeWaterWise.com to learn how," the announcement reads.

But environmentalists say L.A. should be doing more, especially since the city's biggest water provider, the Sierra snowpack, is 20 percent below normal. Meanwhile, the Colorado River, another major source, is in the eighth year of a serious drought.

"We've done a lot. We need to be getting much more serious," said Andy Lipkis, who heads a group called Tree People. The group helps conserve L.A. water by building huge storage tanks under city parks and at schools.

At one school, Tree People ripped up the concrete school yard, and installed an underground cistern that holds nearly a million gallons of water. Now, instead of rainfall spilling off the roofs and onto the street, the school captures it and uses the water for dozens of redwoods, willow trees and two baseball fields.

"We are blessed with rainfall when we get it. It's a huge amount," Lipkis said. "And we throw it away, and we pollute it. That's a crime."

Lipkis says for every half inch of rain, 3.8 billion gallons of water just runs off into the storm drains. He says if the city worked harder to capture that resource, Los Angeles could cut its water imports by 50 percent each year.

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