Viewpoint - January 6, 2010

Editorial: Time to take a stand on water

Even if we are not threatened by another dry year, it makes sense for Bay Area cities to do what they can to minimize wasting water, one of the most precious resources we have.

A new state law imposing some restrictions on landscape irrigation took effect Jan. 1, but only new homes, major remodels or, in some cases, extra-large landscaping projects will have to abide by the new rules.

The legislation applies to all water agencies and cities in the state, which can add restrictions of their own, although they are not permitted to weaken the law. Menlo Park will take up its proposed stricter ordinance Jan. 12, but so far, there is no indication that Atherton, Woodside or Portola Valley plan to beef up the new requirement.

The Menlo Park City Council may see some protests at the public hearing, due to the recommendation that the council limit lawn size to 500 square feet (or 25 percent of the total landscaped area for properties with over 2,000 square feet of landscaping). Councilman John Boyle already has characterized the proposal as an infringement on private property rights, but it appears that a council majority is ready to enact an ordinance limiting lawn size.

Although some homeowners might object, particularly those who, like Mr. Boyle, want to provide a lawn for children "to kick a soccer ball around," the city is on the right track with this ordinance. And while old habits die hard, we believe homeowners could easily survive with 500 square feet of irrigated lawn. Resourceful kids have no trouble finding basketball hoops at neighborhood schools, and they can just as easily find a place to kick a soccer ball around.

Water conservation decisions should not turn on whether kids deserve to play backyard sports. It is serious business. Local governments can no longer ignore that we are depleting this resource and not replenishing the supply. Any wasteful practice should be stopped, and restrictions should not be limited to irrigating the lawn.

Much more could be done. For example, local governments could do more to make residents aware of the effects that low-flow plumbing fixtures have in lowering household water use. And simply applying watering restrictions citywide could save a substantial amount of water every year.

Menlo Park's upgrade of the state water conservation ordinance will barely make a dent in the work needed to conserve local water resources, but it will be a start. The council should hold firm and restrict the irrigated lawn size to 500 square feet.


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