Claremont’s drought future remains hot topic at council meeting

Sustainability and water were the hot topics at Claremont’s city council meeting Wednesday evening, with residents and city staff expressing their concerns regarding the drought and the effect it will have on the city’s conservation efforts.

The regularly scheduled Tuesday night meeting was moved to Wednesday in observance of the Veteran’s Day holiday.

In the presence of the entire city council, City Principal Planner Chris Veirs presented the fifth annual Claremont Sustainability Report Card, which covers sustainability activities tracked during the 2013 calendar year and includes an extensive background report to provide supporting information regarding the basis for each grade. The purpose of the report card is to gauge progress toward targets indentified in the Claremont Sustainable City Plan and to make information available to both city officials and the public.

“Overall, we’re doing a pretty good job of meeting our goals,” declared Mr. Veirs. “In 2013, we have six areas where we’re exceeding our goals…doing better than what the city sustainable plan had set as the goal. Actually meeting or exceeding or goals is at 85 percent, so we feel like we’re doing pretty well.”

Of the 33 performance indicators tracked, six were given an “achieved and exceeds goal” rating, 22 are “meeting goal” and only five are “below/behind goal.” Community water usage received a “below goal” grade because of increased water use due to hot and dry weather conditions. Overall, city staff believes that the community is responding to drought concerns and that the 30 percent reduction by 2017 goal is still achievable.

The full document will be posted on the city’s website and copies will be made available to the public to be picked up at city facilities.

Also presented before council was the city staff’s recommended strategy to evaluate municipal landscape and irrigation facilities to reduce water consumption now for immediate savings, and to indentify irrigation retrofit and landscape conversion projects that can be implemented in phases for long-term benefits.

Community Services Director Kathleen Trepa presented the information report to city council with a projected 20 percent reduction in city outdoor water consumption with an estimated $130,000 in savings.

Despite the savings, costs associated with replacing the city’s antiquated and inefficient irrigation systems throughout the city’s parks could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Two such projects have already been budgeted.

“$280,000 was budgeted to install replacement systems at two of the most problematic parks in the community, College and Higginbotham parks,” explained Ms. Trepa. Water savings, grants and rebates could partially off-set the remaining costs.

To address immediate water supply concerns, staff has directed the city’s landscape maintenance contractor to begin switching the roughly 245 irrigation programs to winter schedules as well as program an across-the-board reduction of 20 percent to scheduled irrigation times. The contractor will assess trees and sports fields to ensure these are not irreparably harmed by irrigation reductions or cause a significant interference with sports play.

Mr. Trepa also stressed that this change in irrigation will likely result in turf brown outs and the loss of some plant materials, particularly in areas of full sun. The condition of the city’s landscape maintenance area will appear to decline as part of this effort and city trees are of particular concern as they are not on separate irrigation systems and may show some stress as they have become accustomed to supplemental watering schedules. However, staff and consulting arborists will closely monitor city trees for signs of decline due to reduced irrigation and modify as necessary to preserve valuable specimens.

Other suggestions for permanent water savings include replacing turf in parkways adjacent to sidewalks as well as city hall with appropriate alternatives such as decomposed granite, permeable hardscape, drought-tolerant landscaping, or mulch.

Additional suggestiongs include browning out the slopes at Padua Avenue Park while maintaining adequate irrigation for the playing fields. Or browning out dog parks which are subject to heavy wear and tear.

“Short of the sports fields, I don’t mind losing some of the green turf around town in light of the reality of the situation,” said Councilman Corey Calaycay. “But I do get a little concerned in regards to the trees.”

Ms. Trepa confirmed it is a delicate balancing act and that the situation must be monitored.

“I’m still trying to understand what this report is about,” said Councilman Opanyi Nasiali. “Is it the intent of the staff to be proactive about reducing the amount of water we are using immediately or for the future?”

“It’s both,” replied Ms. Trepa. “Right now, we’ve dialed back our irrigation and we’ll be looking at additional projects park-by-park.”

“We live in a desert. Drought or no drought, we import upwards of 40 percent of our water and that should tell us we’re not sustainable,” said Mayor Joe Lyons. “We should lead and model what we’d like to see our residents do—take these opportunities to lead and make the changes.”

There was also some discussion as proposed by resident Dean McHenry about tapping into the public a bit more for their observations and suggestions. Mr. Calaycay reminded residents that the city has an app, making it easier for residents to do just that rather than sharing their disgust on Facebook.

“Do make the effort to contact us,” pleaded the councilman. “Don’t rant on social media in a negative way, be a part of the solution. Give us the opportunity to address the issue.”

—Angela Bailey

news@claremont-courier.com

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