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Friday, December 14 , 2018, 7:30 am | Mostly Cloudy 48º


Karen Telleen-Lawton: Golden Water

We’re always talking about water in Santa Barbara. Ocean views and ocean pollution, boulder-lined creekbeds and the lovely sound of flowing creeks. Debris flows and droughts. Mostly droughts.

Despite the devastating Montecito mud flow in January, we are now in year seven of drought, with no end in sight. The city was recently awarded a $10 million grant by the California Department of Water Resources, which offsets the costs of reactivating our desalination plant.

The plant has been operating for a year now. According to The Brief, a monthly city publication, state-of-the-art technology and design practices were incorporated to minimize electrical demand and environmental impacts during this reactivation process.

The plant now provides about 30 percent of the city’s demand.

Following the intense January rain, February was one of the driest for Santa Barbara in California history. March rain helped to fill our small reservoir, Gibraltar, but Cachuma Lake remained at only 40 percent of capacity at the end of our rainy season.

The emerald grasses that sprang up on fire-denuded slopes are already golden.

When I was a child, my parents introduced me to a friend who said he could find water with a stick. We were on his vast ranch in Nevada, the flat skyline broken by an occasional cow or sagebrush.

He used a forked stick called a divining rod, which wobbled when he got close to a dry drainage. I was thirsty enough to believe anything in that heat.

If I found myself parched in the wilderness now, I’d rely on the presence of water-loving plants like willows (or anything green) to clue me into digging for a water seep. But it’s hard to imagine being in water want, when all we have to do is turn on a tap.

The cost of providing water has risen dramatically due to its scarcity and the difficulty of provision. Water quality is also a bigger issue, since there is less water to dilute the pollution.

Local governments are limited in what “sticks” they can use to reduce water consumption. Punitive rates to discourage flagrant overuse have been challenged in court over the years. Moreover, crying “drought” too often immunizes people to the threat, even when the challenge is real.

We feel like we’ve been good for so long, we deserve that shower or the little patch of green grass.

The city is trying to stick mostly to “carrots”. One is providing classes through Sweetwater Collaborative at the Franklin Neighborhood Center.

Rain Harvesting, Graywater 101, and Site Assessment 101 can help homeowners harvest rain from roofs and gardens and drain water from sinks and showers. These were offered in the spring, but I bet they’ll repeat, especially if there is popular demand.

Garden Wise TV is another way the city is getting the word out. The episode recently available to watch online is Spring Gardening, Pest Control, and Hollywood Natives. You can find it at SantaBarbaraCA.gov/GardenWise.

A great way to get personalized tips is for city residents to avail themselves of a free water check-up.

They won’t bring a divining rod, but they may offer a landscape rebate available for water-wise plants, irrigation equipment, graywater systems, mulch and more. High-efficiency washing machines also qualify for rebates.

We take our cues from the landscape. California summers have always been gold rather than green. Isn’t that why we’re the Golden State?

— Karen Telleen-Lawton serves seniors and pre-seniors as the principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara. You can reach her with your financial planning questions at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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