Long Beach’s landscape is changing–literally.
In response to California’s drought, many of the city’s public green spaces, including parks, campuses and lawns, are being converted from water-hogging designs to drought-tolerant landscapes.
The push to drastically conserve water comes as the California Water Resources Control Board and Governor Jerry Brown issue water reduction mandates to municipalities across the state. On April 1, the governor announced a plan to reduce water use by 25 percent across California, prompting the state agency to issue the localized targets.
The plan includes a 20 percent reduction target for water use in Long Beach, which used 70 gallons per person a day in February 2015. Nearby cities of Los Angeles and Lakewood used 69 and 78 daily gallons per capita, respectively, in that same period, according to water department data.
Local agencies will be primarily charged with enforcing the reductions, and if cities do not comply, they can face fines of up to $10,000 a day. Local officials said they are awaiting more information before launching into action.
“We’re still trying to figure out what [the order] means for us,” said Kaylee Weatherly, assistant to the Long Beach Water Department’s (LBWD) General Manager.
Currently, water use in Long Beach is 5 percent below 2013 levels, according to Weatherly, who described Long Beach as a leader in water conservation.
LBWD recently strengthened their permanent water use restrictions, which can be viewed here. The new rules prohibit watering on days besides Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. In the winter months, watering will be limited to two days a week.
The drought is too dire for LBWD to issue friendly reminders: violators will first receive a warning, then a $200 fine if water officials document the violation a second time.
Recently, a McDonald’s in Long Beach was hit with four violations, for broken irrigation lines, over watering, and other offenses, totaling $800. They are the first ever-cited water citation in Long Beach.
Some residents however, are in favor of fines, if it means conserving water.
“I don’t have a problem [with fines],” said Long Beach resident Bill Smith, a local builder whose lawn is comprised of various succulent plants and smooth rocks scattered across the front of his house. “[Fines] will get people’s attention. It would get mine. We are in a drought and we shouldn’t be wasting water.”
Slapping a fine on wasteful water users aims to change the habits of residents and business owners. Weatherly cited another strategy that invites behavior change: installing smart meters on homes and businesses, which allow residents and the department to track water consumption in 5-minute increments.
Additionally, the LBWD’s Lawn to Garden program replaced two million square feet of grass with drought-tolerant landscape in the past five years. The program actually pays residents $3.50 per square feet to convert their grass, paying up to $3,500.
“It’s one of the best water-saving things residents can do because half of water goes towards outdoor landscapes and watering grass,” Weatherly said.
The Parks, Recreation, and Marine (PRM) Department is assessing what the governor’s order means for Long Beach open spaces.
“We’re going to comply,” said George Chapjian, PRM director. “How we get to the [20 percent reduction] is probably the question. We don’t want to kill the mature trees.”
Chapjian expressed concern that further water restrictions may color park lawns brown, as PRM currently waters grass only two days a week. After conducting a water audit, the department found that some plants were lacking sufficient water.
“Our job is to see that we can keep them green, given the few parks and green spaces in the city,” Chapjian said.
Some park space in Long Beach is completely brown already, such as the park next to Recreation Park Golf Courses, and residents are noticing.
“It’s getting brown; something has to be done,” said Michael Greenbaum, who visits the park two or three times a week.
The department is planning to convert at least three soccer fields to artificial turf, but not all residents are happy about this. Ciro Guiterrez, a Long Beach resident from Mexico, plays soccer at Long Beach’s soccer fields with his 10-year-old son, Daniel. He hopes the soccer fields can stay green.
“I feel more of a connection with nature with the greenery,” Guiterrez said in Spanish. “With artificial turf, it’s not the same.”
Park officials have been converting some existing park space into drought-tolerant landscapes. Additionally, all new construction by PRM will use drought-tolerant, native plants.
The governor’s water reduction mandate includes replacing 50 million square feet of lawn with drought-tolerant landscapes across the state.
PRM runs five golf courses in Long Beach, which all use reclaimed and non-potable water for watering, making them exempt from Brown’s order, according Bob Livingstone, Superintendent of Golf Operations in Long Beach.
Higher education campuses must make drastic changes to their landscapes to address the drought, as well.
On April 6, California State University Long Beach (CSULB) announced a landscape conversion plan to reduce water use by 3.5 million gallons annually, partially by replacing 90,000 square feet of lawn with drought-resistant plants. Michael Uhlenkamp, Executive Director of News for CSULB, said this conversion was planned regardless of the governor’s order.
“Long Beach State wants to be a leader in terms of sustainability,” Uhlenkamp said.
Additionally, the campus installed low flow urinals and showerheads at residence halls, saving another 6 million gallons annually.
“We replaced a lot of aging apparatuses to be more water efficient,” Uhlenkamp said.
One CSULB student felt the campus’ changes are long overdue.
“To be damned with the aesthetics,” said Steven Kerns, 28, an environmental science and policy student. “We should replace all the landscape. We’re in a desert…we should’ve done this at the beginning of the foundation of the university.”
Kerns believes the university should do more to address the drought, including installing permeable pavement that allows storm water to be absorbed by the ground instead of running off into sewers. Kerns said that there is a small test area of permeable pavement on campus, and that expanding it “would allow greater recharge of the water table and serve as an example.”
Reducing water consumption at the campus has required some initial investment, according to Uhlenkamp.
“There are places where by spending a little bit on the front end, we’ll recoup the savings on the back end,” he said. The landscape conversion plan, for example, is expected to save the campus $15,000 a year in water costs.
Big changes will also be happening at Long Beach City College’s (LBCC) Liberal Arts campus. Some lawn space has been replaced with drought-resistant landscapes and reclaimed water is used on their sports fields, except for the football field, which is made of artificial turf. Some lawns will still remain green, however.
“We’re going to be converting [those lawns to recycled water] in the near future,” said Stacey Toda, LBCC associate director of Public Relations and Marketing. She added that the college is waiting on orders from the California Community College Chancellor’s office, which may release water reduction plans this week.