Moved to Friends of The Vine where Im enjoying a Malbec
Im having a pumpkin ale at the redondo beach brewery with juli


Water everywhere, but not a drop to ...

...irrigate? ...shower? ...drink? ...ration?

I am enjoying On The Public Record blog and got motivated by some comments in a post titled "It's almost like we're all connected somehow" to go back to an issue I raised with my local water provider in early summer. This post expands on the interchange in the comments at OTPR.

Earlier this year I raised with the CPUC some basic rate fairness issues about the proposed water rationing* scheme that would be imposed upon us, noting that there was no "floor" water usage below which rationing and penalties would not be imposed. Adding insult to injury, the rationing methodology of forcing cutbacks based on historic usage penalizes those who have been conserving all along as well. See CPUC Correspondence and Water rationing upon us.

Here's where my local water district is with conservation: Right now we're in an advisory 10% cutback phase. We've also had rate and tier changes recently to encourage conservation with price signals.

Knowing that we had recently had such changes, I went looking for the impact of my letter on the rationing policy and I found Section E of my Mandatory Water Conservation and Rationing rate schedule, effective Sept 1, 2009, does indeed have a 5 hundred cubic foot (HCF) usage floor below which there is no penalty or rationing.


Perhaps it was put there after my recent response letter to the CPUC made during the public comment period in which I noted the absence of a rationing floor.

5 HCF seems pretty far afield from reasonable given that the revenue-neutral point for my urban water district with respect to recent rate changes is 18 HCF and the upper limit of Tier 1 billing (the lowest rate) is 13 HCF. I conserve aggressively and if memory serves I'm mostly under the 13 HCF Tier 1 limit, but I'm still not very close to 5 HCF.

I suspect that 5 HCF exemption is only there to placate people who pointed out its previous absence.

And there are still deficits and inconsistencies in the rationing scheme:

1) Mandatory rationing is based on average usage between 2004 and 2006, penalizing those already conserving.
2) There is no provision for low flow watering systems such as drip. All watering systems are treated as if they are flood/sprinkler irrigation.
3) There is an inconsistency in the rationing plan in section G, where flow restrictor charges are set forth: Section G is not referenced anywhere else in the document that I could find. Maybe later stages of penalties were originally designed activate installation of a flow restrictor, but they were edited out**.
4) Penalty rates are scaled from Tier 2 rates***, not from the base rate at which the rationing violation occurred. Again, this unfairly impacts those already conserving: If you already conserve enough to be at Tier 1 rates, and don't conserve additionally per requirements, then you take a greater percentage penalty hit than someone who has to conserve within the Tier 2 rate.

So, a Pyrrhic victory at best against institutional inertia. Maybe more like a Sisyphean victory.

* As noted elsewhere, the word "rationing", as applied in the field of California water doesn't mean that you can't have more, just that you'll suddenly pay a lot more (a fine plus a quantity charge) if you cross a usage threshold.

The charge for installation of a flow-restricting device shall be:
Connection Size Charges
5/8" to 1" ..... .. , . .. . ... .......... ... .. ........ $100.00
1-1/2" to 2" ... ... .. .. .. ..... ....... ...... '" ... $150.00
3" and larger ....... .. .... .. ... .. . ... ... .. .. .. $200.00

*** Allocation Penalty Charges for Stage 2 - 7
1. Usage within allocation ...... .... .... . .. . ....... .. .. . ....... ....... . .. ... $0
2. Usage over allocation up to 15% above allocation ... 1.5 x Tier 2 qty rate on ME-1-R Tariff
1.5 x qty rate on ME-1-NR Tariff
3. Usage over allocation by more than 15% ..... . .... .. ... 2 x Tier 2 qty rate on ME-1-R Tariff
2 x qty rate on ME-1-NR Tariff


Weekend garden accomplishments

I had a productive Sunday working in the garden. The sun shone! No indoor chores on my To Do distracted me from my gardening objectives, despite my best intentions to get at least a few done, and I had the help of my son without too much pre teen angst.

We cut the Matilija Poppies (Romneya coulteri) back, removed Penstemon, and replanted next to the driveway as planned. Some extra Aristida purpurea was planted to eventually fill gaps in the front yard. This grass is my current favorite. For a while I had misidentified A. purpurea, thinking it was Nassella pulchra, but I got that straightened out during a summer visit to the Payne Foundation when I noticed the plant tags didn't match up well with my idea of how things ought to be. I started a bunch of seed at that time and from now on it's A. purpurea as my go to grass.

We mowed the (evil turf) lawn and raked up magnolia leaves. They don't tend to compost well, so we throw them out in the city's green garbage. We have a push mower, so it doesn't shred the leaves like a power mover can.

We moved a Symphoricarpos mollis (Creeping Snowberry) to a more pleasing location and planted a third nearby to make a visually pleasing trio. I felt that now was the best time to transplant. We'll see if I am successful. I've decided that my natives can get a dose of B1 vitamin when I transplant them and it won't hurt them too much. Aside from general warnings that natives don't need fertilizer like exotics (referring to N-P-K type fertilizers), I don't think I've seen any discussion about using B1 to prevent transplant shock in native plants.

My son transplanted yarrow to fill in between the cracks in the side yard pavers.

In the vegetable garden we cleaned up, collected some forgotten cow beans, planted sweet pea seed and winter squash, mulched, and sowed Phacelia seed as green mulch in much of the rest of the vegetable garden. The Phacelia was highly successful last year as a flower in the front and as green mulch in the vegetable garden, though it tends to germinate late in the shady corner. Along the way I realized that my garden rows are E-W oriented, and really ought to be N-S oriented. That won't get fixed any time soon.

I repotted the bitter orange that I've grown from seed from 1 gallon to 3 gallon containers. I didn't even see any roots in the 1 gallon, so I guess I'm well ahead of the growth curve there.

Finally we planted several pots with natives. I tried composing small plant vignettes with extra Aristeda purpurea that I had grown from seed earlier this year. The A. purpurea is the tall element and around it I placed bulbs, checkerbloom, blue eyed grass, and the like. The California Bay Laurel (Umbellularia californica) was a little different.

Pictures would be worth 1000 words here, but I haven't had access to a memory card reader in a while. Maybe I'll be able to update this post later.

Other accomplishments: Saturday was a cluster f*ck while we waited hours to get turned away from the H1N1 vaccination clinic. Warren and family were ill, so we didn't get to see them. Haunted Hayride - somewhat expensive, but well executed and fun for me. Scary for little kids. Spooktacular carnival on Friday at my son's school. I bought a couple items at the silent auction to help raise money for the school. A flat tire (again with the sharp objects!). Wash, meals, etc.


Weekend garden plans

It's fall, and the California garden springs into life after the first rain. I've been chomping at the bit to work in the garden and I have a long list of tasks.

My garden tasks for this weekend include cutting back the Matilija poppy, digging out some failing Penstemon next to the driveway and replanting with recent Payne Foundation acquisitions that ought to flourish better in my garden conditions: Lessingia filaginifolia 'Silver Carpet' (Silver Carpet aster) and Lotus grandiflorus (Large-Flowered Lotus).

I ought to tidy, divide, and plant more yarrow in the bare patches in front, and adjust the sprinkler for better coverage so that come spring time it looks more lawn-like. The same goes for the actual lawn, which doesn't get much supplemental water, but has now come back to vigorous life with the first rain and at least needs the string cutter. Then there's the bare patch on the parking strip that I've been meaning to turn to natives.

There's Phacelia tenacetifolia seed that I ought to distribute in my vegetable garden for soil improvement, and some other wildflower seeds that I ought to put in my One Pot At A Time pots.

My vegetable garden needs tending, and I have a bunch of onion sets to put out. I didn't know this, but whether you get green onions or regular slicing onions depends on the depth that the sets are planted. A deeper planting yields green onions. Those are the more perishable, so perhaps I'll go that way so that I can have them fresh at hand when I need them. It's time to plant lettuce and spread compost as well.

My carefullycasually tended pots of cuttings, seed starts, and garden rescues that have made it through the summer are beginning to show new growth so I ought to do something productive with them. Two of six bitter orange trees grown from seed made it. A trumpet vine cutting (1 of 6 taking for a friend) made it. The dead looking Matilija poppy in a pot is regrowing too and I noted at the Payne Foundation that they now charge $14! for a 1 gallon Matilija poppy. I could have been rich propagating Matilija poppies!

Then I'll scratch my planting itch even more using some nice designer-esque pots that I acquired last weekend when I made my previously-promised trip to the "Pot Depot" (aka Pottery Manufacturing and Distribution, Inc).

Theodore Payne Foundation has a number of attractive potted native plants and I've managed to keep a couple of my own alive over the past year after a couple miscues in the more distant past. So my goal for Sunday is to use some attractive pots I've seen recently as inspiration for my own potted native plants while maintaining a hopeful state of mind about their continued viability.

There isn't a huge amount of information out there on best planting practices for California natives in pots. What I've found is that one key to a successful potted native plant seems to be use of a mulch (TPF always uses an attractive polished rock mulch, which I try to do as well) in order to prevent excessive soil temperatures and water loss during hot months. I use a plain Jane commercial potting soil mix (this week it's Kellogg without obvious added plant foods / fertilizers). Sometimes I mix in extra vermiculite or other lightening amendments. My pots are usually oversized compared to the cheapest home improvement store pots. Most important, I think, is that they are usually deeper, which allows the deep-growing roots of natives a better chance to sustain the plant over the hot summer months. You can't grow a large plant in a small container for very long before it's too cramped.

Watering your potted natives is the key to success, and what I've found is that less is more, but only to a certain point. Cultural practices written for the garden do not apply exactly to pots. For example, one is often advised by California gardening books to withhold summer water from Fremontodendron lest it perish. What they often neglect to say explicitly is that this advice is for established plants in the garden. Fremontodendron will perish in a pot without summer water. I know this because I've killed one this way, back when I followed a more literal interpretation of the garden book guidelines. The same is true of Matilija poppies. And wildflowers will give their best in pots only if you augment rainfall with additional water.

I have a lot of new California native plants to work with. These are my latest acquisitions:

From my earlier trip to TPF I still have Arctostaphylos 'Elizabeth McClintock' (Manzanita Elizabeth McClintock ) and Ceanothus 'Powder Blue' (Powder Blue California lilac) in 1 gallon containers as well as Sidalcea malvaeflora 'Palustre' (Checkerbloom) in 4" pots.

Additionally, last weekend I made a second trip to TPF in order to browse and purchase during the last weekend of their fall sale (15% off plant materials to the general public and 10% off seeds and bulbs). I didn't really have any purchasing goals except for bulbs (I ended up with Calochortus luteus 'Golden Orb' (Mariposa Lily) and Tritelia laxa 'Corrina' (Ithuriel's Spear). Juli caught bulb fever and ended up with Calchortus splendens 'Violet Queen' and Brodiea californica). But I ended up taking home Umbellularia californica (California Bay laurel) and Quercus chysolepis (Canyon Live or Maul Oak - a tought, shorter stature, oak) in 1 gallon pots, and a couple Fragaria chiloensis (Beach Strawberry) in 4" pots, and Heuchera 'Dainty Bells' (Coral Bells).

Can I really get all this and a workout in on Sunday?

Weekend plans

I have Saturday plans to take Juli and my son to see Warren and his wife in the AM. They have a baby that I've neglected visiting for so long that even I'm feeling guilty about it, not a usual state of affairs for me when it comes to social obligations. I'll then attempt to get my H1N1 vaccination and in the evening we'll visit the Haunted Hayride.

I need to work out on Sunday AM and then take action at home and in the garden. Home improvement tasks include fixing the shower valve, putting the wood trim on my kitchen counter, fixing the phone line so it's no longer running on the floor through the house, and repairing the doorbell.

The tasks that I'm really relishing are the garden tasks. I think I'll put those into the next Blog post, since the list is long, ambitious, and detailed.


Grammar tip of the day

From Merriam-Webster's online dictionary comes the following clarification [my emphasis]:

Effect and affect are often confused because of their similar spelling and pronunciation. The verb 2affect usually has to do with pretense "she affected a cheery disposition despite feeling down". The more common 3affect denotes having an effect or influence "the weather affected everyone's mood". The verb effect goes beyond mere influence; it refers to actual achievement of a final result "The new administration hopes to effect a peace settlement". The uncommon noun affect, which has a meaning relating to psychology, is also sometimes mistakenly used for the very common effect. In ordinary use, the noun you will want is effect "waiting for the new law to take effect" "the weather had an effect on everyone's mood".


First rain: 1.45 inches

I had just under 0.1 inches in my back yard today. So much for the predicted flood. We'll see how it goes tonight.

Update 14 Oct: 0.84 inches over night for a total of 0.94" so far, with more on the way today. That's a good rain for us. I understand N. Ca. got significantly more, but I'm glad that we started slowly because of the recent fire-denuded hillsides.

Update 14 Oct PM: 0.51 inch more during the day for a total of 1.45 inches. This was the perfect first storm for us: not too much, not too little, not too fast.

Looking back over the years that I've tracked rainfall in my backyard, we see that I've been reporting rainfall totals proportionate to the official rainfall tally for the City of Los Angeles. My rainfall totals actually have a much better correlation to the official rainfall than I had originally expected. I attribute the ~2.3" offset to better monitoring of heavy dews and light rain in Los Angeles, but it seems like that's a lot of dew!


At last! V. carpesioides

The weather is a bit crisper, I've made sure my heater is working, and Trader Joes is selling spiced apple cider. These are all the signs of fall, so we can start thinking about native gardening again.

One of the hallmarks of recent falls for me has been the fall sale at the Theodore Payne Foundation which starts today. At the sale they offer 15% off for members. However, they are open Thursday with their regular prices (members still get 10% discount) but with the best selection that they will have all year long and no crowds, so it behooves you to go early and pay slightly more for hard to find items.

A quick trip to the Theodore Payne Foundation the other day netted me TWO Venegasia carpesioides (Canyon Sunflower) in 1 gallon containers. They had about 10 set out for sale, but 30 are listed on the plant inventory for this week, so I may have only just managed to scoop up 1/15th of the southern California output for this year. I was told that the seeds were wild harvested locally, so this is really the species and not V. carpesioides "Estrella".

For those that have been following along, V. carpesioides is a sunflower that doesn't need sun and for which I have been searching for what seems like forever. I credit Chuck b. over at My back 40 (feet) for bringing it to my attention. Alas, my quest for Wyethia ovata continues.

I also picked up some relative rarities along with some garden staples to quickly spruce my yard up.

Lessingia filaginifolia 'Silver Carpet' (Silver Carpet aster) a ground cover that ought to work well for me along the driveway.

Lotus grandiflorus (Large-Flowered Lotus)

Based on my success with Wooly Blue Curls and a forgotten name manzanita in pots, I think I'll put these in pots for a year or so:

Arctostaphylos 'Elizabeth McClintock'

Ceanothus 'Powder Blue'

Sidalcea malvaeflora 'Palustre' (Checkerbloom) in 4" pots. I struggled to find this previously, lasat year eventually latching onto a few in 1 gallon pots. This time at the more favorable 4" price I scooped up three.

I have so many plants for pots that I think I need to go to the Pot Depot.


Payne Foundation wiki

The Theodore Payne Foundation has upgraded their native plants section to a wiki. (Click on Native Plants from their home page or click here.)

I also got a nice email alerting me that Venegasia carpesioides is available. I emailed back asking if they ever had Wyethia ovata. I've been looking for both of these for a long time.