L.A. Dept. of Water and Power defends rinsing fake grass during drought

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A Los Angeles Department of Water and Power spokesman on Friday defended the utility’s practice of rinsing artificial turf at its facilities in face of a local TV report that portrayed the move as a waste of water during California’s four-year drought.

The DWP spokesman, Joe Ramallo, said that the fake grass at several department properties required regular rinsing to alleviate odors from animals and homeless people who urinate there.

The turf was installed as part of a successful program began in 2011 to replace grass with drought-tolerant landscaping at 71 DWP facilities, he said.

“All told this program has removed over 1.3 million square feet of grass and replaced it with California-friendly landscaping,” Ramallo said. “That’s enough water to (serve) to 314 single-family homes in Los Angeles each year.”

Local KCBS-TV captured videotape of what it said were sprinklers “watering” fake grass at the DWP’s substation in south Los Angeles for six minutes, saying the move angered nearby residents who had been threatened with citations for wasting water.

“They’re quick to fine us for certain things, over watering or whatever,” resident Amber Gordon told the station, adding that she has allowed her lawn to go brown to save water during the drought.

KCBS said in an online version of its story that the excess water ran off down the sidewalk and toward a street, in violation of city code.

Ramallo said artificial turf had been installed at a total of 19 of the 71 DWP properties included so far in the program and that five of them were rinsed twice a week to combat the urine problem and that doing so was in compliance with city water conservation ordinances.

The other 14 locations with fake grass were rinsed less, “as needed”, he said, adding that in all instances less water was used than would be required for natural grass.

At the location filmed by KCBS, Ramallo said, residents complained when the natural grass was removed and specifically requested that it be replaced by artificial turf.

Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Alan Crosby, Bernard Orr