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September 30, 2009

Lake Los Angeles

by Brad Warbiany

Here in Southern California, water is a pretty precious commodity. And I’m not just talking about the pretentious restaurants where you get dirty looks if you don’t like your water “sparkling” and at $6 a bottle. No, it’s a serious outgrowth of building a major city in the middle of a desert, in which you have to pull water from supplies in other geographies to meet your needs. As we’re more sensitive to water conditions throughout the western US, we’ve been inundated with PSAs encouraging saving.

One of those PSAs has teeth, advising of watering restrictions. If you want to water your lawn, you’re only allowed to do so two days a week, and only in the morning. At least, those are the rules for us mere citizens. I’ve complained on twitter about driving past freeway medians and cloverleafs where the State of California is watering at 5 PM on a Friday, but I’ve simply assumed that this is mere government hubris.

But perhaps I was wrong. In the LA area, old decrepit infrastructure has led to a higher-than usual number of major pipe ruptures, causing significant flooding (NY Times, reg. req’d). Based on one of the potential reasons for that, I must now think that the Friday afternoon waterings weren’t about not following the same rules as mere citizens, but because they fear overloading the system (emphasis added):

Since Sept. 1, there have been 43 breaks that have flooded or damaged streets, compared with 21 in September 2008, 17 in September 2007 and 13 in September 2006.

The rash of blowouts began in June, when a new drought-induced water policy went into effect, a circumstance leading outside engineers and analysts to question whether water restrictions are contributing to the problem.

Under the policy, residents are permitted to water their lawns only on Monday and Thursday, causing a surge in water flow those days that may be taxing the system, said Richard G. Little, a policy analyst at the University of Southern California who studies public infrastructure.

So thank you, California State Government! Your inability to follow stupid* restrictions with destructive unintended consequences may have saved us from some of the negative impact of that stupid restriction! Under normal circumstances, I’d assume your inability to follow the restrictions you expect the rest of us to follow to be simple hubris, but here I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt — you were trying to save us!

Hat Tip: Brian Doherty, City of Angles

* PS – I call them “stupid” restrictions not because it’s a bad idea to limit watering to early mornings when evaporation will be low, but that restricting it to only two days forces all watering into very small time windows. If the added demand on the pipes is truly the reason for this rash of flooding, it would have been smarter to open watering up to any day of the week, but maintain the early morning hour restrictions.

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1 Comment

  1. Interesting. In New York, in previous years, the restrictions were odd/even days, based on your numerical street address. Numbers, 15, 347, and 124-79 would water on odd days, while street address numbers 64, 978, and 39-72 would water on even days. Most of the issues were regarding summer lawn watering; I don’t remember if the 31st was a free-for-all or a nobdy-at-all (it’s been a few years since I’ve lived in NYC)…

    Comment by tmana — October 1, 2009 @ 3:44 am

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