Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Drought restrictions are being felt in many ways across California


Parts of Southern California are several weeks into mandatory water restrictions. The state's worst drought on record has officials imposing tough rules to cut outdoor water use at people's homes. But water shortages are being felt beyond private yards. Caleigh Wells from member station KCRW takes us to some other hard-hit places.

CALEIGH WELLS, BYLINE: Driving his pickup truck around Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery, John Michael Mintz (ph) wears a Vietnam vet hat. He points at rows of graves. He's been the manager at the cemetery south of Los Angeles for 24 years. He says it didn't always look like this.

JOHN MICHAEL MINTZ: The whole cemetery looked like that right there.

WELLS: That little patch of green?

MINTZ: Yeah, the whole cemetery, everywhere.

WELLS: The quiet serenity is interrupted by the loud crunching of footsteps on brown grass. It's going to get worse. Starting this month, he can only water for 20 minutes, twice per week.

MINTZ: People are complaining. Well, you know, you wouldn't want to have your mother buried here, you know?

WELLS: Would you bury your mother here? Like - you wouldn't?

MINTZ: No, I wouldn't.

WELLS: Yeah.

As the lawns turn brown, people at cemeteries and golf courses are scrambling to find water some other way. There's no affordable silver bullet. Mintz says he's frustrated, but he's not the real victim.

MINTZ: It's worse for the Allen (ph) family - where those flowers are over there - who come out here every week and see their son that's buried here.

WELLS: Twenty miles away, the lawns of another cemetery are still green, thanks to years of planning.

BRUCE LAZENBY: We can't let this place turn brown.

WELLS: Bruce Lazenby is in charge of business development at Rose Hills Cemetery.

LAZENBY: So that's why we began to look for other sources. And the - and good fortune would have a neighbor like the San District.

WELLS: The San District - that's the LA County Sanitation District - happens to be right next door. It operates one of the world's largest wastewater recycling programs. Rose Hills started using all recycled water five years ago.

LAZENBY: We went a hundred percent, the entire property, all - I think it's 700 acres or so of lawn is all irrigated and landscaped with recycled water.

WELLS: Since this water is recycled, it's not subject to restrictions. The lawns at Rose Hills will stay green. But for most people, getting access to recycled water is still plenty tricky. Some water conservation veterans are preparing for the worst.

ANNI MARSHALL: And most of us don't have yards. So basically, we sacrificed by reducing our personal water consumption by 40%.

WELLS: Anni Marshall is a drought veteran. She's lived in the beach town of Avalon for nearly 40 years. She's the mayor there now. Avalon is on its own tiny island more than 20 miles from the mainland. They're so remote that importing water isn't an option, so they make do with their small local reservoir and extreme measures.

MARSHALL: We would put a bucket in the shower so that - so I could water our plants. And, you know, when you do wash clothes, you just load them up and do them a little more sparingly, perhaps.

WELLS: They've built their own plumbing line to use salt water in their toilets, and they're relying on turning salt water to fresh water. It's a controversial fix because it comes with environmental costs. But Marshall says it's the best option they've got.

MARSHALL: We're all tickled to death that we have it, or we would be looking at what the rest of the state is looking at.

WELLS: Marshall is used to this. Once they were so low on water, businesses had to ship their linens on a boat to the mainland to be washed. She says they're trying to avoid these drastic workarounds, but the driest months are still ahead.

For NPR News, I'm Caleigh Wells in Los Angeles County.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOM'S "SAVING THE WORLD IS EASY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Caleigh Wells