California’s drive to save water is killing trees, hurting utilities and raising taxes

California’s drive to save water is killing trees, hurting utilities and raising taxes

They haunt this city’s streets, the browning yards of stylish homes, the scenic grounds of the local University of California campus and dry roadway medians. They’re urban trees, thirsty for water as the state enters the fifth year of the worst drought in its history, and thousands are keeling over.

“It’s definitely not a good thing,” said Ambrose, a researcher at the university who studies forest ecosystems. “They’re not as visual, they’re not as pretty. Along the highway you see a lot of dead redwoods. I feel sorry for the trees.”

Eight months after California’s governor ordered cities to cut water consumption by a quarter, residents and businesses have exceeded expectations. But no good deed goes unpunished. Now, the state’s furious conservation drive is not only threatening trees but also resulting in sluggish sewer lines and possible increases in water and tax bills.

In declaring a drought emergency in April, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said watering emerald-green grass every day “is a thing of the past.” He neglected to say trees were exempt, so residents, businesses and local governments stopped watering them, too.

Now the state is losing millions of trees that beautify their cities, improve air quality, offer shade in areas where temperatures can reach 100 degrees and provide habitat for untold numbers of squirrels, birds and other animals.

Trees are stressed and wilting from water loss in high heat. Leaves and limbs of redwoods, oaks, magnolias and other species are dropping, arborists say. Urban trees are joining the 12.5 million wild trees that died last year, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

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