Elizabeth Tenney sure tried.
The former Mammoth Planning Commissioner was a big proponent of making the Town look better.
She was the inspiration behind the welcome signs at the entrance to town.
She was the one who beautified the post office, until she moved away and the garden wasn’t maintained and the flowers died.
Every few years in Mammoth there’s a push to make the place look better … but getting something to grow isn’t as simple as throwing down seeds and playing Mozart throughout the night. Many considerations and factors go into landscape planning. Elevation, soil quality, drought restrictions/rainfall, soil acidity, foot traffic, natural predators, climate change, and aesthetics are all relevant factors.
The most important of these, however, is drought restrictions/rainfall. And curiously, the Town of Mammoth Lakes has proposed a $250,000 plan to improve the landscape and walking areas along Old Mammoth Road from Mammoth Creek Parkway to Highway 203 that includes demolition, earthwork, irrigation, concrete, and planter boxes – during a severe drought with a current Level 3 water restriction. There’s also a $3.2 million proposal on the table to improve Laurel Mountain Road between Main Street and Sierra Nevada Road. This includes sidewalks, sewer, curb and gutter, storm drains, street lighting, and pedestrian beacons.
The Notices inviting bids on both projects appear on pages 20 (Laurel Mtn.) and 21 (Old Mammoth Road) of this issue.
Roberto’s Cafe owner Joanie Schaller, has been personally landscaping the area in front her restaurant for years. She takes pride in the appearance of her town and is doing as much as she can to make this small patch of land beautiful. She shared her frustrations with the lack of action the town has taken to improve the neighboring areas near Roberto’s.
“I kind of adopted this space, because I’m so tired of it looking like s&%t. So, there’s no grass anymore. I don’t know what they’re going to do with it. It used to be grass but then obviously watering restrictions … That’s the town side over there, but I usually take it over. I put in bark whether they like it or not. I don’t ask their opinion, because they don’t do anything anyway. It’s terrible because look how terrible the street looks. It looks so run down when you don’t do anything. First, they had a big study and some guy came and I asked him what was happening, and he said they were going to put in drought-tolerant shrubs. That was probably five years ago. They didn’t do anything, and only God knows how much they paid for that. Then they were going to put pavers in. Obviously, they never did that. They just do studies and then do nothing with that information. They’re paying money for nothing. They’ve talked about all of it a million times. They never do anything. Literally, never anything. I just gave up. I seriously doubt anything will happen. I took my strip of land over because I’m just over it. I like mine to look nice. I have no faith that they will actually do anything.”
Mammoth Community Water District Engineer Garrett Higerd gave a water usage/supply update at Mammoth’s Town Council meeting on Wednesday.
Garrett Higerd has been studying our groundwater, snowfall, well systems, and drought conditions. He warns that we need to start paying attention to the red flags, “If we’re going to have new development going on in town, we need to use water a little smarter and not do as much outdoor irrigation. That’s part of being resilient in drought conditions. You never know how long the drought is going to last. Do you start doing something about it now or wait? By then, we’re in big trouble. That’s where we are. The Level 3 reduction in water is serious.”
He went on to encourage strict adherence to the recommendations to reduce local water usage. “We have these water restrictions, and it’s going to really mess up the town’s plans for landscaping this year. This year, you can’t add any new lawn. None. We’re trying to work with applicants to come up with a phased approach, install some drought-tolerant landscaping and when conditions improve, maybe add some turf area later. ”
For the first time since 2016, the town is under a Level 3 drought restriction. It’s not just Mammoth that is under the watchful eye of its own Water District. The writing on the wall is being seen clearly in Southern California as it takes drastic measures to reduce water usage.
As Higerd observed, “They’ve drawn a line in the sand that says, ‘This year these plants are going to die’. We’ve had these restrictions before. Right now, they’re [L.A. communities] supposed to be saving 20%. The results show that when the mandate comes out, they don’t actually do it.
What’s different about Mammoth is back in 2016 when we had Level 3 water restrictions, we got an award from the state for actually saving water. We actually reduced water *more* than what our goal was. We reduced our usage by 35%. At Level 3, our goal is 30%. Our community actually does really well in responding to these restrictions compared to the rest of the state. I think the governor is saying, ‘Look, something has to get through to you, you’re not doing it, you’re not voluntarily doing it, so it has to ratchet up. Do us all a favor, all of the lawns in Southern California need to die this year. You guys can figure something else out.’ There’s an opportunity in all of this to rip out lawns and make changes for the better.”
As reported throughout the spring, conditions are fairly dire. Eastern Sierra snowpack was measured at 41% of normal as of April 1. This is part of a multi-year trend. According to the data shared by the Mammoth Lakes Water District, if condo associations and homeowners stopped watering their grass, it would be the equivalent of saving an entire well worth of water. This could potentially be the difference between not running out of water and running out of water if drought trends continue.
Grass-lined sidewalks and medians are “normal” sights, but it’s a practice brought to the West from the settlers on the East Coast. Lawns became the standard in the East where grass grows abundantly, and there it’s a battle to keep it from growing too wild and waist-high.
Here, grass-lining sidewalks isn’t actually normal. It’s just a bad habit. Google *zeroscaping* and *xeriscaping* to see how low-impact landscape design can be.
Mammoth has a long way to go in how it conceptualizes its future. Planter boxes require more water than planting directly in the dirt, herbs like mint make amazing groundcover, and kale is cold hardy and thrives in low light.
Mammoth Lakes Community Water District’s Senior Administrative Analyst Betty Hylton shed insight on the landscaping proposals through her own experience living in Mammoth.
“When I moved to town, the landscape areas on both Old Mammoth Road and Main Street were grass. They used a lot of water. It’s really hard to have grass in strips like that near concrete that absorbs heat. It’s just a really hot environment. It’s difficult to irrigate a strip like that efficiently.
Back in the last drought when we were working with the town, they ultimately let that die, because they couldn’t keep it within their maximum applied water allowance. Hopefully, they are doing it right this time – Putting in an efficient irrigation system, not watering hardscapes – so I’ll be optimistic that this is the last [iteration], will look good, and doesn’t use a lot of water.”
Amy Callanan, Engineering Manager of the Public Works Deparment, shared a plan to return to native plants and trees in collaboration with Betty Hylton’s advice. Callanan is optimistic the funding provided by the Old Mammoth Road Benefit Assesment District will cover most of the $250,000 needed to bring these plans into reality. A significant protion of the Laurel Mountain Road improvements are being funded through grants including SB1, State Transportation Improment Funds, and a contribution from the Sierra Nevada Resort.