Water-saving tips for California's epochal drought January 23 2014

L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley tried to require mandatory rationing via heavy fines in the droughts of the late 1970s and the early 1990s, but without much to show for it. What Los Angeles, like other places, did do was order mandatory low-flush toilets and low-flow shower heads, which saved thousands of acre-feet of water automatically.

But those savings must be pretty well maxed out by now.

And now Mayor Eric Garcetti should step into that Tom Bradley role to get Angelenos on board the water-saving bandwagon and revive some of the spirit of decades past.

Garcetti is already an environmentalist who’s lived in energy-efficient and water-sensitive homes, so he can’t be accused of not practicing what he preaches (except perhaps at Getty House, the mayor’s official residence, which may still have Ethel Bradley’s lovely, thirsty rose garden).

Here’s where Garcetti can call in civic favors from his friends in L.A.'s “creative community” to do some funny-or-die-style public service videos — cheeky, over the top, but with unmistakable messages like:

  • Co-showering. Twice the affection with half the water.
  • A couple of colleagues suggested nudism as a means of sparing laundry water demands. I’m for it, if they go first.
  • Kill your lawn. About 60% of L.A.’s water — excellent, clean, drinkable water — gets used outdoors, on lawns and flowers and plants. A lawn in a drought is as silly as a rice paddy in the Central Valley. If you want to see a big greensward, watch “Downton Abbey.” Or go to Descanso Gardens or the county arboretum, or a park. Use low-impact or drip sprinklers, and water deeply, only at night, a couple of times a week.
  • Turn off the hose. Speaking of parks, in 2008, as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was touting rigorous water-saving measures, city employees were spotted hosing down tennis courts at a city park. Time to revive the old drought regulations, with fines: Absolutely no hosing down driveways or sidewalks — or tennis courts. Get reacquainted with a broom. And when you wash your car, fill a couple of buckets or use a trigger nozzle; you can’t leave the hose running.
  • Water = bucks. Garcetti needs to make the connection between water and money very clear, as solar panels have done with electricity. Start disincentive pricing at the DWP to reward savers and penalize wasters.
  • Royal flushes. “Poo do, pee don’t” went one piece of drought advice. Low-flush toilets have helped immensely, but surely we can eke out a little more conservation.
  • Water, with water back. Many restaurants have fallen back into the wasteful habit of pouring glasses of water for diners without asking whether they want it. And diners, don’t ask for it unless you’re going to drink it. I have mortified my friends at the end of meals by gathering up all the glasses of untouched water at the table, carrying them outside and dumping the water on plants or bushes. Every glass of water at a restaurant requires at least two more glasses to wash it.
  • Turn on, tune in, turn it off. Don’t leave the water running while you’re staring dreamily into the mirror with a toothbrush in your mouth. Don’t use a full cycle in the washing machine just to launder a dirty T-shirt.
  • Drought 911. Ask citizens to watch for waste, and kick the DWP into gear to reinvigorate drought-busters to investigate and solve water breaks.
  • Never, ever throw away a bottle of water, empty, full or anywhere in between. Empty the water into a planter or the grass, and recycle the bottle.

OK, Hollywood, there’s your civic assignment. Create some amusing PSAs about rules that should drive us not to drink.