Saving water as we enter the dry season

Ventura County’s wet season ended last month, leaving us with 60 percent less rainfall than in an average year. Conserving water this year is even more important than usual.

To meet our needs this year, more water will have to be delivered to parts of Ventura County through the State Water Project. We will also have to rely on the groundwater supply we have banked, reducing reserves that could be needed if a catastrophe strikes the state’s aqueduct. Moving water across the state and over mountains also consumes a lot of energy, which drains fossil fuel resources and creates air pollution.

Consequently, we need to focus on saving water this summer. Approximately 70 percent of residential water is used outdoors for watering landscaping or washing equipment and cars. Cutting this water use will reduce runoff of dirty water through storm drains and into the ocean.

The first place to cut water is to avoid overwatering the lawn, which can move pesticides, dirt and nutrients from fertilizers. Nutrients and dirt may not appear to be as bad as pesticides, but they do create problems in the environment. Dirt in the gutter helps move the bacteria and chemicals that adhere to it, including pesticides and heavy metals. Simple dirt also harms habitat by settling to the bottom of a stream bed and filling in the nooks and crannies that are habitat for aquatic creatures. Nutrients that help your garden grow can upset a stream’s natural balance by growing too much stream-choking algae. 

To conserve water and prevent pollution, here are some more tips: Use a carwash, which recycles water, not your hose. Use a broom, not a hose. Use climate-appropriate landscaping. Use irrigation timers and adjust sprinklers.

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Permeable pavement also banks water and filters pollutants

One of the biggest ways to bank water and avoid runoff pollution is to direct rainfall into underground aquifers. The Freeman Diversion and other massive public works projects do this on a large scale, but anyone who owns a paved surface (ranging from residential driveways to business parking lots) can also play an important role.

Most paved surfaces are impermeable. That is, they prevent water from percolating into the ground. Impermeable surfaces cause water to run over streets, scooping up pollutants such as oil, metal from brake pads, pet waste, fertilizers, carrying it into local creeks, rivers and the ocean.  
Some types of paving, however, let water through to the ground. Below the surface, soil and microbes provide natural filtration and break down many pollutants carried in stormwater runoff. 

Permeable paving surfaces come in various forms, including pervious concrete, porous asphalt, interlocking concrete pavera and reinforced turf pavers. These surfaces allow rainwater to seep into the ground.  Reinforced turf pavers are paving stones or support grids with large gaps planted with grass or other plants, and look more like a lawn, but still provide support for the weight of parked cars. 

You can capture a large amount of water flowing across a low corner of a parking lot by installing a recharge bed of loose gravel under a section of permeable pavement. In addition to facilitating the percolation of rainfall into the ground, gravel recharge beds can provide a habitat for pollutant-eating microbes.

For example, in sections of the Ventura County Government Center’s parking lot, pervious concrete gutters remove more than 70 percent of pollutants running off that massive paved expanse by diverting water before it can enter any drain.

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May was Bike to Work Month

May was Bike to Work Month, when health advocates, conservation activists and traffic planners made a joint effort to point out how much money you can save and pollution you can reduce by powering your daily commute through burning calories instead of fossil fuels.

If your bicycle spent another month gathering dust in your garage, reconsider bicycling. The most common concern about bicycling is safety, and that is being addressed by the Ventura County Transportation Commission’s new iPhone and Android applications, showing the best bicycle routes. As long as riders plan routes before riding, rather than trying to determine the safest route by looking at their cell phones when they should be watching the road, this could go a long way toward making riders safer.

If there is no chance you will start bicycling, you can sell or give away your bicycle so others will start riding. Donate working bicycles to a Boys & Girls Club by calling 641-5585, or sell or give away your bicycle (including those in nearly working condition) through or in the “free stuff” sections of Craigslist or another on-line service.

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