PRECIOUS COMMODITY AROUND THESE PARTS: Residents make up about a fifth of Santa Monica’s total water usage. (File photo)

PRECIOUS COMMODITY AROUND THESE PARTS: Residents make up about a fifth of Santa Monica’s total water usage. (File photo)

CITYWIDE — Santa Monica used about 2 million more gallons of water per day last month than it did the same time last year, city officials said.

The 20 percent increase, from 9.36 million gallons per day to 11.42 million gallons per day, was due to the dry and warm climate last month, said Water Resources Manager Gil Borboa.

Resident usage makes up about a fifth of Santa Monica’s total, he said.

Last year was one of the driest in California’s history. Rainfall in Los Angeles for 2013 was 3.6 inches. The yearly average to date is 14.93, according to statistics from the National Weather Service.

Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown officially declared a drought, asking for a 20 percent reduction in usage.

For now, Santa Monica is sticking with its request for a 10 percent reduction, which has been in effect since 2009. If there’s no significant rain by February or March, the City Council can pass stricter guidelines, Borboa said.

“Water levels have dropped over the last year, but have not reached critical levels,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Investments made by south California as a whole in large storage and infrastructure projects in the regional water system enable MWD (our imported water supplier) to meet 2014 water demands.”

Local sources meet about 70 percent of the city’s needs with the remainder coming from the Metropolitan Water District, he said.

This year, Code Compliance officers started cracking down on residents wasting water on their lawns. Violations related to hosing of hardscapes, irrigation system leaks, and draining of pools, tubs, fish ponds and fountains will no longer be subject to warnings. Fines start at $250.

City Hall is also paying residents and businesses to switch to more water efficient lawns. They give $1.50 per square foot to remove grass and put in climate-appropriate plants and mulch, said Kim O’Cain, a city water resource specialist. There are additional rebates given for installing more efficient sprinklers and irrigation systems. Up to $3,000 can be reimbursed for the landscaping changes.

Installing cisterns and rain barrels could also get you a rebate, O’Cain said.

The grass changeover is the most popular of the rebate programs, she said. Overall, they’ve been getting about five applications per week since the programs launched in the fall of 2012.

The new plants require a little more water than usual at first, she said, but once established they are significantly more efficient. City Hall is currently studying how much water is being saved and expects to have results in April.

The lack of precipitation is taking a toll on some of City Hall’s vegetation.

“Some of the trees are stressing out because of the drought,” said Darrell Baker, city landscape manager. “The magnolias are seeing signs of decline because they’re not getting a lot of proper moisture.”

City Hall hasn’t done any planting yet this year because the conditions haven’t been right, said Public Works Director Martin Pastucha.

“It’s not been ideal conditions where there’s cooler weather and high moisture content,” he said.

There’s nothing imminent about the current conditions from a landscaping perspective, he said.

“It’ll take its toll over time,” Pastucha said. “If it continues, with a couple years of drought, it’s going to be harder and harder on the trees.”

They can’t water all 33,000 trees, he said, but they would consider watering more susceptible ones if it stays dry for a long time.

“It would depend on what the water restrictions are as well,” he said. “Obviously everyone is trying to conserve water and if we’re flooding plants, that’s not helpful. So we need to watch that and also monitor these large investments.”

Dust is usually less of an issue in the winter, he said, and the street sweepers have to work harder than they normally would this time of year to keep the storm drainage areas clear.

Water bills usually drop this time of year, he said, but City Hall hasn’t seen that either.

“Some of the winter’s benefits are just not there this year,” he said.

 

dave@smdp.com