Drought forces deep cuts to freeway landscape watering

Drought forces deep cuts to freeway landscape watering »Play Video
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Impacts from California's drought could affect your drive. Caltrans has ordered a 50 percent reduction in freeway landscape watering, and Bakersfield is an area where they'll ask for emergency funds to update irrigation systems along the highways.

The Keep Bakersfield Beautiful committee got an update on Tuesday, including a video conference with a Caltrans official in Fresno.

Steve Fuller told the group they would ask for the funds this week, and they're hoping for enough money to get the most modern irrigation systems along all the Bakersfield-area freeways.

David Schroeder is the maintenance regional manager in Bakersfield. He said the current conditions are about the worst he's seen in 26 years with Caltrans. And, locally, freeway plants are watered with old irrigation systems.

"Most of the irrigation systems in the Bakersfield area are still manual timers," Schroeder explained. "We want to upgrade and get some computerized things."

He said they'll have to see how much money comes through, and he thinks the modernization can make a difference.

"I think it'll help quite a bit," Schroeder said. "Newer methods, less waste. They have low-flow and over-flow designed into the computer systems, where they shut down."

It's all about saving water. And Caltrans officials say their "drought action plan" is designed to comply with the Governor's Drought State of Emergency.

One big part of the water-saving plan is the order to cut freeway landscape irrigation by 50 percent. Schroeder hopes the public won't notice too much of a change.

"Maybe a little discoloration of the plants," he said. "We're going to strive to maintain them alive."

The plants they'll keep alive are trees and shrubs along the state's freeways. The announcement from Caltrans says highway plantings are a $1.4 billion investment.

"It's a lot of investment of taxpayers' money that we don't want to lose," Schroeder said.

But, some things will just not be watered. The Caltrans order calls for no watering of "turf grasses and lawns" at their facilities including highway rest areas.

And, they won't wash the Caltrans vehicles. The order says that would only be done if it's necessary for the safety of the driver "or traveling public."

Another order calls for doing most of the landscape watering at night, to stretch supplies. And Caltrans will also watch for leaks and problems, and they've been told to make repairs and adjustments as quickly as possible.

"Do not allow water to run off onto the pavement," the order reads.

Schroeder said the local maintenance department would welcome any reports from the public about leaks or watering problems. He said that office can be reached at (661) 391-3810.

And while conditions along the freeways may look drier this year, the overall look of the landscaping may change in the future. Caltrans said it is looking at using more native plants and more water-saving ground coverings, like mulch.

Schroeder pointed to a project at Highway 204 and Airport Drive that's covered with wood chips, and said he hopes to see more areas like that.

"We all realize that most of the water in this area is imported, and we don't have the water to make an oasis," Schroeder said. "So, we're going to have to revert to something else that's still esthetically pleasing."