As the grass carpeting many Santa Barbara parks turns brown, the city’s Parks & Recreation Department is taking significant steps to reduce water usage in response to the region’s crippling drought.
On Tuesday, parks and recreation officials briefed the City Council on the progress and said they will continue to conserve water.
Irrigation has been turned completely off at some locations, while many other parks are reducing water use by 20 to 30 percent.
Director Nancy Rapp outlined where the department spends its water, with almost half of the water going to maintain the municipal golf course. Parks get the other half and just 4 percent goes to recreation, which includes things such as pool use.
Recycled water has been used almost exclusively to keep the golf course green in the past, but with the recycling facility offline while a filter is being replaced, all of the water being used now is considered potable, Rapp said.
The department has 47 developed and open space parks, with nearly 1,800 acres of park land under its care.
The biggest water user is turf in those places and different parks have implemented different conservation strategies.
For example, no changes in water use have been made at Cabrillo Ballfield or the Chase Palm Park on the mountain side of Cabrillo Boulevard.
Rapp said that turf was being maintained at Chase Palm’s north side because it contains a variety of turf that will not bounce back if it dies, and is also the site of the city’s summer Concerts in the Park series.
The five ball fields are being maintained for safety reasons, she said.
Most of the parks are seeing reductions of 20 to 30 percent, including Oak Park and Shoreline Park.
Irrigation has been turned off completely at other locations. Upper and Lower Orpet Park are almost completely brown at this point, but are covered in Bermuda Grass, which should bounce back with the first rains, Rapps said.
Irrigation has been turned off at Coast Village Road median islands and decorative fountains have also been turned off, one in the A.C. Postel Rose Garden across from the Santa Barbara Mission and one in Chase Palm Park near the carousel.
“We also are seeing more dead trees around the community,” Rapp said. “We identified over 600 trees that we are concerned about,” including 72 historic or specimen trees.
Four swimming pools are also part of city facilities and the West Beach Wading Pool, which has a significant leak, was closed.
A tree near the pool is also home to several black night herons, which often defecate on the sidewalk nearby, and the city had to power wash the decks and sidewalks to meet health codes, Rapp noted.
Because of that, they decided not open the pool this year, she said.
Using battery-operated blowers instead of power washing decks, installing low-flow shower heads and asking people to keep to five-minute showers are strategies implemented at pool facilities.
At the golf course, the greens around the holes are being watered while other areas aren’t, because the grass around the holes “is a very delicate turf and it’s prone to disease,” she said.
“We are feeling very pressed to protect the city’s only municipal golf course,” she said.
The department has lost some revenue because of rentals being canceled, and the golf course has seen a decrease in recent years.
Most of the turf across the city should recuperate if the city sees normal amount of rainfall next year, which has been about 17 to 18 inches, according to city staff.
One person speaking during public comment called the city’s parks the front and back yard for many families living in apartments.
Mayor Helene Schneider said that brown lawns send a good message that the city is leading by example on water use.
“It’s a constant reminder that we are in a drought,” she said.
Schneider said when driving down Cabrillo Boulevard, she noticed that the south side of Chase Palm Park is completely dry, while the easement on the north side, which is the city’s but maintained by the Fess Parker Doubletree is still green.
“The contrast from one side of Cabrillo to another is dramatic,” she said, and asked if the hotel could reduce water usage in that area, at least until the recycled water plant comes online next summer.