Sunday, January 29, 2012

It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Green

When Jim Henson’s Kermit the Frog first sang this song, it had nothing to do with the state of world ecology.  Since then the title has become a Ford Motor Company commercial and an Internet communications network for promotion of environmental awareness and action.  The idea is not new to people of the Central Coast where insulated from both Los Angeles and San Francisco by hundreds of miles, we continue to live the good green life in our own fashion.

Twenty years ago San Luis Obispo took a California state mandate to recycle some of the trash collected from homes in the area, and pushed it up a notch.  We separated our cans, bottles and paper and collection okayed by the San Luis Garbage Company ( yes, they are unafraid of disclosing the reality of that) included more of the kinds of plastic than just those the State of California told everyone to do.  The Central Coast was one of the top recyclers in the state while other areas struggled to get going.  That leadership helped build a market for recycled products to compete in the marketplace and fostered a boom in new ways to use even more of what is discarded daily.  It also fostered new equipment to sort so we can put all items to be recycled into one bin.

Not long after that success, we hit the big time with the ban on smoking in public buildings.  That one ran well in San Francisco, Peoria, and Europe once we showed conforming to the new legal standard would not shut down the business district.  Time has come to show that leadership again, this time with wise use of water. 

Living in the west is nothing like living in Sagamore Hills in Ohio, Albany New York or Spruce Pine North Carolina where water is abundant and summer means mowing the grass every week before it gets knee high to a horse’s belly. The operative word for us is a “Mediterranean climate,” meaning dry summers and (hopefully) wet winters.

Our natural open spaces cycle differently and instead of copying what others do thousands of miles away, we need to cooperate with nature by planting low water demand native plants.  To use water wisely will always be a challenge for Californians, not just another method to meet present needs. In the 1950’s the State Water project was planned to provide water for that time and forever in the future.  It is the world’s largest publicly built and operating water project and the claim to persuade voters was that we would never have to worry about water supplies again.  We believed it and passed the bond measure to fund it in 1960. 

However, it’s not enough today, and we face the need for more storage.  The elaborate system of multiple dams and forebays endow the region with water but at the cost of natural running rivers and streams, not to mention helping to decimate fish populations.  Not only is it difficult to be green, doing it right is complex and comes with a pressing need for compromises.

What does not change is that our water is limited and it is sheer folly to copy landscaping of the eastern part of the country where lawns are watered mostly with year round precipitation.  San Luis Obispo has yet another opportunity to lead and I challenge San Luis Obispo City and the Nature Conservancy to write up an ordinance banning all irrigated grass lawns.  With the savings, parks and recreation can go the professional arena route using artificial turf with a ground recycled tire base to cushion ballparks.

It’s not a monumental undertaking but it does have wide ranging effect, such as purchasing a commercial vacuum instead of artificially watering acres of lawns alien to this climate.  The changeover will require a several years to get into it gradually and give ornamental growers a chance to reorient their inventory as well as for homeowners to replant lawns with native flora.  Count on media coverage and a lot of disbelief just as it was with the smoking ban in public buildings.  Dynamic leadership attracts that kind of reaction, but we’re used to it.

How about some feedback?