Monday, July 6, 2009

Water Rationing is Nothing New

Really. In 1976 London residents, and eventually most of England and Wales, all had to do without well-watered gardens.

By February of 1977, Mayor Tom Bradley urged Angelenos to voluntarily reduce their water use by 10%, because of a continuing drought. In Northern California, involuntary rationing was already being enforced. In March, Time Magazine was warning of another Dust Bowl ! By April, even San Francisco had tough policies to cut water use by 25%. By May, the L.A. City Council approved Mayor Bradley's plan for mandatory cuts:

  • Hosing down driveways and sidewalks--strictly forbidden, effective immediately

  • Using non-recycled water in decorative fountains--also forbidden

  • Water served in restaurants only by request

  • Starting July 1, 1977, all residents must reduce their water usage by 10%, using the same month in 1976 as a baseline.

  • No watering lawns between 10 am and 4 pm (the hottest hours)

  • If necessary, the mandated reductions could go to 25%.

And no whining! The Times was quick to point out that residents on Catalina were dealing with reductions of 50%!

That's when we all started filling quart and half-gallon bottles with sand or rocks and putting them in the toilet tank to reduce water there. That's also probably when (I can't prove this) the charming little ditty

If it's yellow, let it mellow,

If it's brown, flush it down!

became so popular.

Bradley was sworn in for his second term as mayor the day after that 10% cut went into effect. And though the new rules came with punishments--a couple of warnings, followed by the cutting off service--I don't think anyone ever had their water cut off for overuse.

In retrospect, 84% of the DWP's 600,000 customers met or exceeded the 10% reduction and kept it up. By March of 1978, when most folks felt the drought was over, water usage was still down 19%. The 10% decrease for residents ended, but the bans against watering the driveways and running fountains just for show remained.

The 1977 drought was far worse than what we face now: back then, we were warned that the Sierra Nevada snowpack stood at one-fifth of normal. In 2009, it's at four-fifths. A Times story last March says the water reserves in 1977 were at 35% of average; this year we're at 70%.

So no worries. This picture of LA in 1977 is from Wikipedia, captured from the opening of CHiPs.

3 comments:

support heritage square said...

Love your blog! Keep up the good work.

Brian Sheridan
Director of Development
Heritage Square Museum

Addiction said...

Conservation of water is so important even turning off the water while brushing your teeth. I work at a
drug rehab and we are kind of in a little bubble out here, anything we can do to conserve here is a win.

Vix said...

Addiction, you are so right!

Thank you both for checking in--