Home Web system Water restrictions bring big profits to businesses helping SoCal deal with drought

Water restrictions bring big profits to businesses helping SoCal deal with drought


At this time of year, the calls and emails are pouring in daily: “I just built a swimming pool, can you come and fill it up?”

“I had at least seven just over the weekend,” said Amy Underwood, director of Mel Underwood Water Trucks at Sylmar, which supplies water for special effects and fire safety to movie sets. – not to thirsty owners. “We’re getting calls from Inglewood, Crenshaw, El Monte, San Diego, Vernon, Bakersfield.”

It’s not just pool fillers. In the middle of a Southern California water shortage emergency and strict usage restrictionsinvestigations are more daring:

“’Hey, we’re in a drought and I can’t water my lawn – can you come and water it? My neighbors will report me if I turn on my sprinklers,” Underwood said, citing example after example. “’We’re recreating our pool — can you come and drain it and store the water, and come back and refill it?’ “We haven’t paid our water bill and we have no water, can you come and park your truck here so we can shower?” ”

“My answer is no, still no,” she said. “It’s a lawn, it’ll be fine.”

Obtaining water, conserving water and, in some cases, stealing water have become mainstays of the microeconomics of drought. It is a large and rapidly expanding market that includes products – artificial turf, rainwater storage tanks and low-flow appliances among them — and services like security companies hired to patrol neighborhoods for signs of water waste; recycled water car wash installations; and the companies that go paint your grass brown green or remove your lawn and replace it with native landscaping.

For more than two decades, sod laying and sprinkler fixing were a big part of the job of landscape designer Daniel Gonzalez, whose wealthy Calabasas clients insisted on immaculate, lush lawns that were watered evenly and regularly.

But now “they don’t care about the sprinklers – they want them out,” Gonzalez said last Tuesday from the driveway of a house in Mountain View Estates, gated by a guard, its yellowing lawn covered in plastic tubing. disassembled plastic stained with dirt and valves.

Landscaper Daniel Gonzalez, left, and Derek Krauss, a field customer service representative for the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, at a Calabasas home where Gonzalez had spent the morning installing a drip irrigation system . He installed six in June at $4,500 each.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

The owners had paid Gonzalez $4,500 to install drip irrigation, a low-pressure sprinkler system that delivers moisture directly to plant roots. Since the Municipal Water District of Las Virgenes implemented a one-day-a-week outdoor watering restriction on June 1, it has done the same for half a dozen other homes in the exclusive community and in has a seventh scheduled in Thousand Oaks; drip irrigation systems are exempt from the new rule.

“People want them right away,” said Gonzalez, 44, who lives in Reseda. With a team of three workers, he can get the job done in a day, but finding all the materials has been a challenge due to high demand, ongoing supply chain issues and inflation.

“They say they don’t have it,” he said of local hardware stores where he buys parts, many of which are out of stock. Then “next time I walk in they raised the price.”

At Smith Pipe & Supply in Westlake Village, customers bypassed the 5-foot-tall rack of synthetic turf options — overpriced, unrealistic — prominently displayed by the front door in favor of irrigation systems drip, salesman Armando Luna said.

“Everyone is freaking out about one day a week,” he said.

A display of artificial grass outside Smith Pipe & Supply in Westlake Village.

A display of artificial grass outside Smith Pipe & Supply in Westlake Village.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

They are selling out so fast that the store is struggling to keep them in stock and has recently added more designs to its merchandise selection.

“My supervisor ordered 300 single tube rolls, but only 75 arrived,” Luna said. “Then in two days it was gone.”

To catch a thief

Since the new restrictions took effect, officials have already seen a noticeable drop of water consumption in Southern California. But while many owners have cut back, others are spending money to keep things flowing.

“People with means have opportunities they can create for themselves: hire someone to water their lawn by hand; ‘I will drill my own well’; hire someone to truck water,” said Mike McNutt, spokesman for the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District. “I don’t know if we can do anything to ban this, but it highlights the difference between the haves and the have-nots.”

District field reps routinely traverse the coverage area — which includes the ultra-rich enclaves of Agoura Hills, Calabasas and Hidden Hills — looking for telltale signs of water wastage, usually in the form of dripping runoff. on the side of the street. He also hired Dial Security, a Camarillo company, to conduct patrols.

More than ever, we caught more tankers flying… They’re getting smarter — they know that at 2 am we’re not working.

— Derek Krauss, Field Customer Service Representative with the Municipal Water District of Las Virgenes

Water theft is a growing concern: thieves who illegally hook up to fire hydrants and gas stations without permits, scoop up water and then resell it to consumers. Sometimes the companies behind these operations are legitimate daytime water suppliers, licensed to draw on fire hydrants to bring water to job sites, for dust control, or to fill hand washing stations.

“We’ve caught more water trucks stealing more than ever before,” said Derek Krauss, a field customer service representative for the district. “It’s not a super common thing, but it does happen.”

Krauss said residents called when they noticed trucks opening hydrants, but can rarely provide identifying details because the vehicles are generally unmarked. The district suspects that most activity takes place in the middle of the night.

“If they disconnect and take off, there’s nothing we can do,” Krauss said. “They’re getting smarter – they know at 2 a.m. we’re not working.”

But overall, businesses have operated above all odds, with many taking it upon themselves to reduce their water usage, said Las Virgenes chief executive David Pedersen.

cheesecake factory

Some companies have voluntarily reduced their water consumption. The Calabasas-based Cheesecake Factory uses large amounts of water due to the washing of equipment required during the cheesecake-making process; he installed water-saving sprayers and nozzles.

(Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times)

One of the largest commercial users of water in the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District is the Cheesecake Factory, he said, due to the amount of equipment washing required when mass-producing cheesecakes. in his bakery there. To cut expenses, the Calabasas restaurant chain voluntarily installed water-saving sprayers and nozzles, Pedersen said, noting that the district had been reluctant to enforce restrictions on local businesses for fear it would affect productivity and harm harms the economy.

Less water, more fire

Despite efforts to mitigate the effects of the drought, businesses behind the scenes are also preparing for inevitable wildfires — and more.

Insurance companies in 22 states contract with Forest fire defense systems to protect homes and businesses; the Bozeman, Montana agency mobilizes firefighters and support crews during wildfires.

Last year, it responded to 52 wildfires in California, serving 6,867 properties at risk; this year it estimates up to 100 wildfires and up to 10,000 properties at risk across the state, Chief Executive David Torgerson said.

A firefighter assesses the approach of flames

A firefighter assesses approaching flames in rural Nevada County California as the Rices Fire burned in late June.

(Elias Funez/Associated Press)

“The ladder jumped,” he said. Already, “we are at least 30 days ahead of what we were at the same time last year. If you go back to 2017, the scale, the intensity, the frequency, the amount of properties at risk is only increasing rapidly.

Large national companies like Wildfire Defense Systems are busy throughout the year. But Gonzalez, the landscape designer from Reseda, said that despite the business boom of late, he is concerned about the timing of the sale of drought-related products: once drip irrigation systems are installed in the houses, its services will hardly need to be forward.

“You just put it on once and that’s it,” he said. “And then the rest of the year – I don’t know.”