Drought has WeHo reacting, finally

July 24, 2014

By Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California

Three years after its beginning and six months after Governor Jerry Brown mandated emergency measures, West Hollywood is coming to grips with a water problem.

Governor Jerry Brown has issued orders to conserve water. Photo by Ryan Gierach.

Governor Jerry Brown has issued orders to conserve water. Photo by Ryan Gierach.

Throughout history, advanced civilizations have risen and fallen on water, its availability and its movement to fill needs. Most historians believe, for example, that growth and failed water resources forced the Mayans to relocate to Georgia, where they eventually became the Cherokee..

Obeying the new mandates means forcing the city to use less water and to promote conservation. Notably, John Duran, having just returned from a conference at which he spoke to Israeli officials about water, said ‘They live in a desert. They have innovative ideas about water and now have a water surplus.”

Advocates for a “slow go” development policy have long warned that building thousands of resident units in the city is a commitment to water the city and state can ill afford.

Americans use an average of 120 gallons of water per day, but Californians use over 10 percent more – 135 gallons.

In one example, during the Movietown Plaza debates, Michael Poles, a Greenacre resident, expressed concern over the dent the projects size would cause in the region’s water resources at a time when he and his neighbors are being fined for increasing their own water use.

Avalon is building two seven-story towers and 26,000 square feet of commercial space, along with 376 plus an on-site manager’s – but all the units will be rental.

Renderings for Avalon's development on the former Movietown Plaza site.

Renderings for Avalon’s development on the former Movietown Plaza site.

Since then, (2010) several more apartment buildings are being built within a few blocks of the now-called Avalon apartments. Developer Monarch is to subdivide 19,559 square feet of ground level commercial tenant space into four commercial condominiums and 187 residential units (including 38 affordable inclusionary units).

Another development by Monarch stands two blocks away across the street from the West Hollywood Gateway Project on La Brea.  This development has 184 units.

A fourth neighborhood development is at the old Faith Plating Company location across from Formosa café. That project adds another 140 units.

This may sound crazy, but just those four new buildings will use 43.9 million gallons per year. Little can be done to compel conservation methods by individuals, but the city is doing what it can with its property and facilities.

But even before these complexes were OKed, Lauren Meister has warned about the city’s General Plan not matching the state’s water situation. “Approving the draft General Plan as proposed would be inconsistent with State and local policies regarding water conservation, she said in an op-ed here on WeHo News in 2010.

In order to comply with the Governor’s mandate, the city has adjusted its irrigation controllers to reduce water consumption by as much as 50 percent. City parks, medians, and landscape areas are affected by these efforts and all are being monitored to ensure that the reduced watering cycles are not adversely affecting landscape.

The park lawns must be watered, but monitored to avoid over watering.

The park lawns must be watered, but monitored to avoid over watering.

The City is also in the process of auditing all indoor fixtures and outdoor water use practices in its facilities, parks, and public spaces. City staff has already identified tools that will reduce water use by the city:

  1. Sensor-Operated Restroom Faucets — Sensor faucets minimize waste and use aerators, which flow at 0.5 gallons per minute compared to standard handle faucets, which flow at 2.2 gallons per minute
  2. Dual Flush Toilet Feature — Dual-flush toilets tend to average less than 1.2 gallons per flush. These toilets typically operate with a handle that can move up or down, or a two-button system.
  3. Water-free Urinals — These urinals connect directly to existing drain lines and use new technology to maximize water conservation without sacrificing hygiene.
  4. Water Brooms — Water brooms, used for pool decks and outdoor courts, flow at less than 1 gallon per minute and use an array of high-velocity, low-water volume nozzles to scour surfaces.
  5. Centralized Irrigation Control System — These smart irrigation controllers are used in the City’s parks and landscape areas. The system actively monitors water usage and flow and will shut the system down in the event of a failure such as a broken head or main line while sending an alert to maintenance staff to notify them of the problem. The system also monitors real-time weather and automatically adjusts irrigation run times to correspond to changes in the weather. When temperatures rise, the system allows for additional irrigation to occur and when it cools down or rains, it will shut itself off to avoid unnecessary irrigation cycles.
City staff will be watching to see that sprinklers do not squirt or leak water into the gutter.

City staff will be watching to see that sprinklers do not squirt or leak water into the gutter.

The City is also amplifying its water-conservation message to residents and businesses and is intensifying enforcement of water utility restrictions, such as rules against hosing down sidewalks.

The city is investigating ways to enforce the new rules regulating water, including a $500 fine for someone caught watering pavement.

West Hollywood residents and businesses are served by two water utility companies: Beverly Hills Public Works and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). Both utility companies are urging customers to cut back water usage and to consider installing water-conserving fixtures. The City reminds the community about the following water-conserving tips:

Sweep, Don’t Hose — Use a broom to sweep sidewalks and pathways instead of using a hose. When washing cars, use a bucket and remember to never leave a hose running. Hosing water on sidewalks, driveways, parking areas, tennis courts, patios or other paved areas, except to alleviate immediate fire, sanitation or health hazards is not allowed in the City of West Hollywood.

Take Shorter Showers and Use Less Water in Baths — Taking five-minute showers instead of 10-minute showers will save 12.5 gallons each time with a low-flow showerhead and will save 25 gallons each time with a standard showerhead. Filling a bathtub only halfway can save 12 gallons, or more.

Limit your showers to five minutes.

Limit your showers to five minutes.

Use Water-Efficient Fixtures and Appliances — Connect low-flow showerheads and use aerators on faucets to save water. Install a high-efficiency toilet. When doing laundry, use the washing machine only for full loads to save water and energy. Install a water-conserving dishwasher and run it only when it is full. When washing dishes by hand, do not let water run.

Check Sprinklers and Don’t Overwater — Water early in the morning or later in the evening when temperatures are cooler to reduce evaporation. Make sure sprinkler heads are functioning properly and ensure there are no leaks in irrigation systems. Switch to drip irrigation to reduce water use.

Water conservation tips and information about rebate programs are available at the following websites:





Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) and the city of West Hollywood contributed to this report