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Global warming requires that Redlands conserve more water – Redlands News

Richard Corneille

As a professional engineer who has worked on water projects throughout Southern California, I can tell you that I am very concerned about climate change and how it is impacting water supplies locally and globally.

Here in California our main reservoir of water comes from Sierra snowpack, which has been significantly reduced. Now most of our precipitation is from intense, infrequent storms called atmospheric rivers that also cause flooding and mud slides.

We are in a 20-year mega-drought in the West. Droughts have occurred in California for hundreds of years, but a research study has estimated that droughts would be less severe by 15% to 20% without the effects of a rapidly warming earth.

A state report last month called “California’s Water Supply Strategy Adapting to a Hotter, Drier Future” predicts that over the next 20 years we could lose 10% of our water supplies due to hotter, drier weather.

“A warming climate means that a greater share of the rain and snowfall we receive will be absorbed by dry soils, consumed by thirsty plants, and evaporated into the air,” the report says.

We are seeing this condition in our local mountains with Big Bear Lake at historic lows and significantly reduced runoff to the Santa Ana River and Mill Creek. This means on the average there is less local surface water to divert for groundwater recharge and less water available to the Redlands water treatment plants. Fortunately, our local water districts have plans to capture more water in wet years for groundwater recharge.

This long-term reduced water availability requires that we continue to permanently reduce our water consumption. There has been significant water conservation over the last 10 years with Redlands per capita water consumption reduced from over 350 gallons per capita per day to 279 in 2020. This exceeds the state-mandated 20% water reduction by 2020 goal. However, Redlands still has a higher per capita water consumption than its neighbors and most communities in Southern California.

So, what else can we do to reduce our water consumption? Many inside water saving devices such as low-flow toilets, shower flow restrictors, and water efficient washing machines are being widely implemented and the city has rebates to partially offset their costs. Considering that over 70% of our water use is outside the house, reducing landscaping use is the biggest remaining area for savings. Lawns are the highest user of water, so we should encourage more turf removal and conversions to drought tolerant plants, trees, and more efficient irrigation systems.

The city is doing what it can by offering rebates for these landscape conversions. Both the city and ANCA (Accelerate Neighborhood Climate Action), an organization I volunteer with, are offering upcoming workshops. On Wednesday, Sept. 21, ANCA will host a workshop on practical ways to save water and money and, on Wednesday, Oct. 19, the basics of converting your landscape from grass to drought tolerant plants and trees.

On Saturday, Nov. 12, the city will host a workshop titled Irrigation 101. These are opportunities for residents to get the information they need to take the next steps.

Six years ago, I converted the landscape at my own house and took advantage of the city’s turf removal rebate program. While the rebate did not offset the cost of the lawn conversion, it helped a lot. It also eliminated the cost of a lawn mowing service. Most importantly, I reduced my overall water use by about two-thirds.

The bottom line is that we can no longer waste water on non-functional turf only for aesthetic reasons. There are many beautiful landscapes using drought-tolerant plants and trees. I believe that if the only person who walks on your lawn is the person who mows it, you can reduce or eliminate it.

Richard Corneille, professional engineer, ANCA Coordinating Committee chairman, vice president of the  San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District board and former city of Redlands utilities director. To contact him, visit corneillerw@gmail.com or call (909) 801-4885.  

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