A role model for cau­tious wa­ter use

The city of Santa Bar­bara’s history of con­ser­va­tion of­fers a drought les­son.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Amanda Co­var­ru­bias

SANTA BAR­BARA — First came the rain gar­den, where bees buzz around the laven­der and sage. Then came the back pa­tio, where bananas, guava, pas­sion fruit, ginger and an herb gar­den are fed by wa­ter di­verted from the clothes washer.

Later came the raised beds thick with kale, chard, straw­ber­ries and sev­eral va­ri­eties of squash. Fi­nally, the na­tive bent­grass, spread like a pale green car­pet across the front­yard.

This is the home of Amy Ste­in­feld and Cameron Clark, a mar­ried cou­ple who bought a 1905 Vic­to­rian farm­house four years ago and soon be­gan trans­form­ing it into a pic­ture of how to do more with less wa­ter.

Their ef­forts have helped this re­sort town of 90,000 lay claim to one of the best wa­ter con­ser­va­tion records in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where many com­mu­ni­ties are lag­ging four years into the statewide drought.

Santa Bar­bara, known for its land­scapes fed by coastal fog, has al­ways had a cau­tious re­la­tion­ship with

13.5% Drop in over all wa­ter use in Cal­i­for­nia in April 2015 com­pared with April 2013

28% Drop inwater use in the city of Santa Bar­bara in April 2015 com­pared with April 2013

65.7 Gal­lons ofwa­ter used per per­son in April 2015 in Santa Bar­bara

55 Gal­lons used per per­son in April 2015 in the Go­leta Wa­ter Dis­trict

wa­ter. An­dits history of con­ser­va­tion may hold lessons for other up­scale com­mu­ni­ties such as Bev­erly Hills and Ran­cho Santa Fe be­ing forced to slash their hefty wa­ter con­sump­tion be­cause of the drought.

For decades, Santa Bar­bara’s main wa­ter sources were reser­voirs and ground­wa­ter, un­til a drought in the late 1980s made of­fi­cials re­al­ize they needed to di­ver­sify. The city ex­panded its use of re­cy­cled wa­ter, joined the State Wa­ter Pro­ject and built a de­sali­na­tion plant, which was used only briefly in the early 1990s un­til the drought ended.

“Santa Bar­bara has hip­pie un­der­pin­nings and a deep com­mit­ment to the en­vi­ron­ment,” said res­i­dent Alana Til­lim, who runs the Santa Bar­bara Dance Arts stu­dio down­town. “We choose to live here, not in Los An­ge­les. We’re here be­cause of the en­vi­ron­ment, the quiet­ness and the beauty, and we work to keep it that way. It’s part of our cul­ture.”

In Cal­i­for­nia, over­all wa­ter use dropped 13.5% in April com­pared with the same month in 2013. In Santa Bar­bara, it fell 28%. By com­par­i­son, Ven­tura dropped 13% and New­port Beach 3%.

Santa Bar­bara used 65.7 gal­lons of wa­ter per per­son in April, ac­cord­ing to the latest fig­ures from the State Wa­ter Re­sources Con­trol Board

The Go­leta Wa­ter Dis­trict, which serves an area next to the city of Santa Bar­bara, used even less: 55 gal­lons per per­son in April. In New­port Beach, it was 99.5 gal­lons, and in Ven­tura, 74.2.

Wa­ter of­fi­cials and res­i­dents say Santa Bar­bara’s en­vi­ron­men­tal history makes lo­cals hy­per-aware of the im­por­tance of pro­tect­ing nat­u­ral re­sources. They also point to wa­ter-sav­ing mea­sures in­tro­duced dur­ing the ear­lier drought that are now be­ing adopted by other Cal­i­for­ni­ans, and a re­spon­sive city pro­gram that helps res­i­dents find ways to con­serve wa­ter.

“The city was al­ready wa­ter-ef­fi­cient, and they’ve just con­tin­ued it into this drought,” said Made­line Ward, the city’s act­ing wa­ter con­ser­va­tion co­or­di­na­tor.

Santa Bar­bara gal­va­nized the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment — and inspired Earth Day— af­ter an oil spill in 1969 spewed an es­ti­mated 3 mil­lion gal­lons of crude into the Pa­cific Ocean. (This year’s May 19 oil spill poured at least 21,000 gal­lons into coastal wa­ters.)

Dur­ing a drought from 1987 to 1991, many res­i­dents were mo­ti­vated to in­stall low-flow toi­lets and showers and to keep their out­door wa­ter­ing to a min­i­mum, Ward said.

In May, the city de­clared a Stage 3 drought emer­gency, which calls for a 25% city­wide re­duc­tion in wa­ter use. The City Coun­cil voted Tues­day to move for­ward with plans to re-open the dor­mant de­sali­na­tion plant as the drought grinds on.

Santa Bar­bara’s main reser­voir, Lake Cachuma, is downto26% of ca­pac­ity. The mas­sive docks that once floated on the sur­face of Cachuma lie on rocks far above the cur­rent wa­ter line, and tall weeds cover the ex­posed lake bot­tom.

To help ease the pain, the city of­fers free wa­ter check­ups to help home and busi­ness own­ers find ways to re­duce their con­sump­tion. It also of­fers re­bates of up to $1,000 for drought-tol­er­ant land­scap­ing and free mulch to res­i­dents for ground cov­er­ing, among other in­cen­tives.

Neil Wil­son, a city wa­ter con­ser­va­tion spe­cial­ist, re­cently vis­ited Til­lim’s dance stu­dio, where the wa­ter bill tripled in one month. Til­lim couldn’t fig­ure out why.

“We are drought- andwater-con­scious,” Til­lim told Wil­son. “We’re even try­ing to teach the kids to save wa­ter. I can’t af­ford to pay a higher wa­ter bill.”

He ex­plained to Til­lim howto read the wa­ter me­ter, and he checked the toi­lets and sinks. They couldn’t find what caused the prob­lem but agreed she should at­tach locks to the out­door faucets to pre­vent theft and check the toi­lets, which tend to run. Wil­son told her a run­ning toi­let can lose up to a gallon a minute.

In Up­per East Santa Bar­bara, Scott and Lisa Burns plan to hold their an­nual July 3 chili cook-off in their spa­cious backyard shaded by a ma­jes­tic oak. But this time the party for about 100 will take place with­out Ber­muda grass un­der­foot. They re­moved all 3,500 square feet this year and in­stead will let the fall­ing oak leaves cre­ate a soft car­pet.

Tyler Mata, another city wa­ter con­ser­va­tion spe­cial­ist, went to their house last week to in­spect the work, which in­cluded a new flag­stone pa­tio. If ev­ery­thing checks out, the city will give them a re­bate for their ef­forts.

“It’s not so much about the money,” said Scott Burns, who writes com­mer­cial real es­tate loans. “But five years down the road, when we still have wa­ter, that’ll be what I’m happy about.”

Erica Dink­ins and her hus­band, Brian, re­placed their front lawn with an ar­ray of drought-tol­er­ant plants a lit­tle more than a year ago. Their one-story ranch house near the Santa Bar­bara Mis­sion was built by his grand­fa­ther and had an old-style front lawn that drought-con­scious Cal­i­for­ni­ans, in­clud­ing Gov. Jerry Brown, con­sider passe.

Erica Dink­ins said the trans­for­ma­tion was emo­tional; she was rid­dled with self-doubt about what they were do­ing and won­dered whether it would turn into a costly mis­take. They spent an es­ti­mated $5,000 af­ter re­bates fromthe city.

Now, the front yard is alive with hum­ming­birds, bees and but­ter­flies.

“It’s get­ting there,” she said. “Of course we had to use small plants, be­cause the big­ger you use, the more they cost. But in about four years from now, that gar­den is go­ing to be epic.”

At the Ste­in­feld-Clark home in west Santa Bar­bara, the cou­ple once thought about turn­ing their en­tire front yard into a food for­est. But they don’t have time for the up­keep, and they want a lawn for their son, who’s due in two months, to play on.

“We thought our neigh­bors might be mad at us,” Clark said, since lawns are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly so­cially un­ac­cept­able.

So they at­tached a small sign to their white picket fence, ex­plain­ing that it is drought-tol­er­ant.

Al Seib Los An­ge­les Times

WA­TER SPE­CIAL­IST NeilWil­son shows Alana Til­lim how to read the wa­ter me­ter at her down­town Santa Bar­bara Dance Arts stu­dio to keep down costs.

Pho­to­graphs by Al Seib Los An­ge­les Times

CAMERON CLARK’S back pa­tio is filled with bananas, guava, pas­sion fruit, ginger and an herb gar­den, which are fed by wa­ter di­verted from the clothes washer.

AT SANTA BAR­BARA’S MAIN RESER­VOIR, Lake Cachuma, which is down to 26% of ca­pac­ity, Dave Martinez of the Rocky Moun­tain Recre­ation Co. walks past a dock now sit­ting in weeds rather than wa­ter.

TYLER MATA, a wa­ter spe­cial­ist, mea­sures an area where home­own­ersmight lay ar­ti­fi­cial sod. The city is of­fer­ing re­bates for wa­ter con­ser­va­tion ef­forts.

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