Green parks require a delicate balance

-A A +A

Water > Antiquated irrigation systems make conservation a challenge

By Arin McKenna

Water Rule W-8, as adopted by the Board of Public Utilities, lays out rules for water conservation: no watering between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. from May 1 through Sept. 30 and “no person, firm, corporation, county, school, or state facility or operation shall cause or allow to occur water waste.”

The county itself does not always meet those strictures. An investigation into why some parks are watered during the day or why overwatering may occur revealed a complex set of challenges to keep the county’s parks and open spaces green.

“Our goal is to be good stewards of our water,” said Parks Superintendent Jeff Humpton. “I believe in efficiency through the right system, not elimination of turf.”

Parks and Recreation staff got overly ambitious this year in a effort to reach a goal put forth in the county’s sustainability plan–to reduce water usage 20 percent by 2020 — and it backfired.

“We started off this season by trying to reduce our watering from five days down to three–a 40-percent reduction–and it immediately showed weaknesses in our irrigation system. It was unrealistic. We had to increase watering to do away with brown areas.”

The drastic reduction revealed flaws in some of the county’s antiquated sprinkler systems, with sprinkler heads that were either malfunctioning or placed too far apart. To reach the brown areas, staff had to compensate by overwatering other areas, resulting in runoff.

“Our long-term goal is to work through the whole system and bring up efficiency through a better irrigation system and newer products,” Humpton said. “In the short term, it’s a matter of looking at what we have and seeing what we can do to make things greener without overwatering. That might mean replacing a nozzle or moving a nozzle.”

“Real results will be seen as we install new irrigation systems. Over the last eight years we’ve done three quarters of our parks: Overlook Park, East Park and Urban Park and a number of others,” Humpton said. “When we have irrigation systems that are not operating properly or if the head system is wrong, that’s not efficient. So by installing new systems, our efficiency rating goes way up.

“We’re a fairly good-sized park system for a little town. It will take some time to work through the system.”
Sometimes the overflow is the result of a nozzle that gets misdirected or a timer malfunction, which is addressed in Water Rule W-8.

“In general, the occurrence of an unforeseeable or unpreventable failure or malfunction of plumbing and irrigation system hardware shall not be deemed a violation of this rule unless and until formal warning notice has been issued.”

Since the watering is, for the most part, done at night when parks staff is not on duty, the department appreciates vigilant citizens making them aware of the problem.

“We love to have eyes out there watching for us. We welcome people’s input,” Humpton said. Report problems by calling 662-8159 or emailing roxie.mascarenas@lacnm.us.

Watering during daylight hours is sometimes the result of a malfunctioning timing system or county staff working on the system, but more often events at venues such as Ashley Pond Park and Fuller Lodge make it unavoidable.

“When you have back-to-back events and we can’t turn on the sprinklers at night because tents are up, it can go two or three days without water and it gets kind of drastic. We have to put some water on it,” said Parks and Recreation Senior Office Specialist Roxie Mascarenas.

The situation at Ashley Pond has been aggravated by the construction. Not only is the grass stressed by the impact of that work, watering has to be closely monitored to avoid runoff into the pond area. That means it must be done during the day when staff are on duty.

Hard usage at the parks is also the reason for the grass blend of blue grass, rye grass and fescue. Humpton calls it a “thirsty” blend but one that can recover without massive amounts of water after hard use.

The county golf course has been watered by nonpotable water since it was created–one of the first in the country to do so. Although the use of non-potable water excludes the course from the water rule, staff still tries to observe it. Their efforts are often impeded by an aging irrigation system.

“A lot of those sprinklers that are along the walk path along Diamond are intended to spray 180 degrees toward the golf course. But if we have a lot of wind, that spray will blow back onto the walk path or onto Diamond Drive a little bit,” said Golf Course Manager Steve Wickliffe. “If we have a sprinkler that goes haywire once in a while, it may go into Diamond Drive. Our staff out there is always monitoring those, and if we get information from a citizen that we’ve got a sprinkler that’s spraying into Diamond Drive, we always try to address that.

“Overwatering is certainly not the intent, and it’s one of the things that we hope to improve when we hopefully get the irrigation and renovation project on the course.”

The start date on the renovation project has been delayed until FY2016, which means it could begin in July of 2015 with council’s approval.

“That’s certainly a more effective and efficient irrigation system. We’ll probably see the problem eliminated totally with the new irrigation system,” Wickliffe said.

In the meantime, Wickliffe asks residents to report wayward sprinklers at 662-8139.

Overwatering at the high school football practice field was also reported earlier this year.

Jeff Sargent, coordinator of facilities for LAPS, explained the situation.

“The watering system had been turned up because of aerating, fertilizing and putting in new grass seed. Because of that we had an overabundance of water on that field that was going into walkways,” Sargent said.

“Due to the rains, the sprinklers have been shut off or reduced in half, especially on the main hill, to help reduce use.”

The water rule does suspend conservation measures for newly planted sod, trees or bushes for up to one month.
The county has no plans to eliminate sod. In fact, it has added grass to areas such as three new tot lots at San Ildefonso, Barranca Mesa, North Mesa.

“We put in turf and trees, and now those are popular destinations,” Humpton said. “They were relatively inexpensive to refurbish and it made a huge difference in the amount of people as well as the quality of their visit.

“There are people who expect nice lush green grass. It takes a lot of water to grow that. And people are trying to conserve at home, so they like the parks to have grass, and they appreciate that. We try to find a balance and please as many people as we can with the budget and manpower we have.”