Since adopting an emergency water-conservation ordinance last month, the city of Fresno has pounded out a steady drumbeat to its residents through water bills and public-service announcements:
Everyone — yes, everyone — needs to do what they can to save water in the city.
The ordinance took effect Sunday, putting tougher limits on landscape irrigation and imposing other restrictions on outdoor watering. But faced with a mandate from the state to reduce water use by 28% compared to 2013, are Fresno’s elected leaders who approved the measures practicing what they preach?
A drive-by photo tour of homes of Mayor Ashley Swearengin and each of the seven City Council members suggests, from the looks of their front yards, that most are taking the message to heart.
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One council member lives in an apartment complex and thus has no control over the landscape watering. Of the other seven homes, six are browning to some degree — some more than others. And while one member’s front yard remains vibrant and verdant, he said he has taken other measures in recent months to conserve water and is considering redoing the yard with more drought-friendly xeriscaping — a type of lawn-free landscaping with dry-climate plants and shrubs that reduces or altogether eliminates the need for irrigation.
Don’t frown on brown
When it comes to letting grass go brown, the lawns of Council Members Clint Olivier and Oliver Baines are running neck and neck on the grass-health spectrum from thriving to, well, dead. Both yards have a few blades of green — but not many.
“We’re following the rules, and we’re making a gesture toward watering,” said Olivier, who lives in central Fresno. “We’re not watering as religiously as we could. … But people want to know if their representatives are practicing what they preach, and I feel confident that residents in District 7 can look at my lawn and know that Clint is not a water waster. We don’t frown on brown.”
Baines, who lives in southwest Fresno representing District 3, said everyone has to do their part to help the city cope with the drought. “We’re all trying to conserve. I’m just trying to be the best steward I can,” he said. “I think we’ve all made mistakes in the past on how much we were watering. Now that we know, we’re all trying to correct that.”
Cutting back on outdoor irrigating is only one way District 4 Council Member Paul Caprioglio’s household is saving water. Brown patches of grass outnumber the green at the east-central Fresno home, “and we used to have flowers, but we don’t have flowers anymore.” He also replaced some hose bibs and sprinkler heads following an inspection by the city’s water division — a courtesy consultation available free of charge to any city homeowner.
“We’re taking shorter showers,” Caprioglio said, adding that he is using a large bucket to capture the cold water that flows until hot water runs and using it to top off the backyard pool. Soapy water from washing dishes is used for outdoor shrubs, “and we’re in the process of getting low-flow toilets.”
In west-central Fresno’s District 1, Council Member Esmerelda Soria’s lawn is about an equal mix of brown and green. “I believe I need to do my part, especially in this drought crisis,” she said. “As leaders in our community, we have to lead by example.” She added that she recently asked the city manager to turn the landscaping at Fresno City Hall from grass to a xeriscape.
Brown also is quickly becoming the new green at Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s home in northwest Fresno. Swearengin said she has kept her sprinkler systems set to the city’s one-day-per-week winter-watering standard, though summer two-day-a-week rules are now in effect.
“We take water conservation seriously at my house, so I’m still only watering the grass one day a week. We’re washing bigger loads of laundry and dishes,” she said. “And most of all, I’m constantly nagging my kids to take shorter showers.”
Still on the green side
Council Member Sal Quintero’s front lawn remains in pretty decent shape, but you can see where grass is browning up. The District 5 representative’s southeast Fresno home, on a one-third-acre lot, has large shade trees that are helping to preserve the grass.
“It’s a large lot that takes a lot of maintenance and water,” Quintero said. He said he took out two trees from the backyard last year to reduce water consumption, and had pine trees in the front trimmed this year to cut back on their water demand.
“I’ve let some bushes die and that sort of thing, and the planting I’ve been doing have been succulents that don’t take much water,” Quintero added. The next project will be cutting back the watering times on his sprinkler system.
District 2 Council Member Steve Brandau resides in an apartment complex in northwest Fresno, so is not involved in the care and irrigation of the landscaping around his unit. The greenery at the complex “is not dry and dead, but it’s not lush, either. It’s in the middle,” he said. “I don’t have a lawn at all, (but) I have a line of great trees that is suffering.
“I think it’s apparent that they’ve cut back (on irrigation),” he said of the apartment management.
Of all of the city’s elected leaders, the yard of District 6 representative Lee Brand in northeast Fresno is easily in the best shape (although one could quibble about a possible modest invasion of white clover in the Bermuda grass lawn). He attributed the verdant condition to the lack of scorching weather so far this spring, not to overwatering.
“With this mild late spring, when you water twice a week, you’re going to keep it green,” he said. “I’m complying with every rule, and we’re not watering on the wrong days. … It will be getting brown once it gets hot around here.”
Brand said his household has up to seven people living in it. But like Caprioglio, Brand said the family has taken other steps to cut back on water use after a consultation last month with the city’s water conservation team. “We found two sprinkler valves that were leaking, and four sprinklers with leaking water lines underneath, and several sprinkler heads that should have been capped after plants were taken out and were just watering dirt,” he said. “We had no idea we had all these leaks.”
A gardener has since made repairs to the irrigation systems, and a plumber repaired a leaking toilet inside. The Brands are now more watchful about doing only full loads of laundry, taking shorter showers, and looking for a cover to cut down on evaporation from the swimming pool.
“And now my wife and I are talking about xeriscaping the front yard,” Brand said. “We already switched our grass from rye and fescue to Bermuda, and we’re barely keeping the lawn in the back alive.”
Staff writer George Hostetter contributed to this report.