Dry Season Ahead For L.A. Rainmakers

The legendary `drought busters' may park their famous marked cars - a letter from Los Angeles

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

LOS Angeles County has put the rainmakers on hold.

A six-month, $181,460 contract with a Utah cloud-seeding company has been shelved temporarily. A sweeping bird's-eye view of California reveals a bright green blanket of foliage and grass flourishing all the way from San Diego to Eureka. It has rained and rained and rained here. Spring flowers are popping up along the freeways where ground cover and scraggly ivy and ice plant were barely alive six months ago. Reservoirs are sloshing. The mountains are snow-capped.

Since January, 23.6 inches of rain has fallen on the City of Angels, well above normal. Statewide precipitation so far this year is 155 percent of normal.

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The heavy snowpack in the Sierras promises fat and fast rivers in the melting months, providing even more water to flow into the reservoirs.

So, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors said no to the men who were about to put silver iodide particles into the clouds. Seeding clouds is an inexact science, and the supervisors reasoned that taxpayer money - now that Gov. Pete Wilson has declared the six-year drought over - should be better spent.

A number of things could begin to happen in L.A. now that drought is not right up there with earthquakes, widespread unemployment, and a host of social problems to lose sleep over - and with signs that rainfall is beginning to slacken to normal.

First, with clearing weather, ebullient singer and actress Bette Midler should appear at some point along a two-mile portion of the Ventura Freeway that she owns.

Well, not exactly "owns," but from which she has promised to remove all litter and debris under the state's Adopt-A-Highway program.

A sign on the Ventura Freeway near the Laurel Canyon exit tells passing motorists, "Litter Removal for 2 miles: Bette Midler. Adopt-A-Highway." At two-mile intervals all over California, signs along the freeways announce who the participants are in the program, including businesses, college fraternities, restaurants, and clubs like Rotary and Kiwanis. As the state budget for freeway maintenance shrunk over the last decade, freeway officials established the innovative program.

With the rain now lessened, how soon will the civic-spirited Ms. Midler be seen on the Ventura Freeway, bag and stick in hand, cleaning up the candy wrappers and beer cans tossed carelessly in the ivy?

Second, sales of homes should go up. According to the California Association of Realtors, the amount of rain so far this year has restrained home buyers from those weekend jaunts to look at open houses. Home sales in California in January of this year declined 12 percent from December. In Los Angeles County sales dropped a whopping 29 percent from December.

The rain and other factors, however, also have dampened the median price of homes in the county. In January of 1992 the median price was $213,870, and this year in January it was an estimated $203,430 - lower, but still close to the highest in the nation.

Third, look for the legendary "drought busters" in L.A. to be discontinued, or put on hold like the rainmakers. Drought busters are hired "guns" from the L.A. Department of Water and Power who drive slowy through neighborhoods in "drought buster" marked cars ready to enforce violations of water conservation regulations.

It's still illegal in Los Angeles to water a lawn in midday, or hose down a sidewalk or a driveway. Unless a customer asks for a glass of water in a restaurant, it is illegal to serve it. If there is a leaky faucet in a kitchen, and it's not repaired, the drought buster could snoop around outside the kitchen window, like Bette Midler along a freeway, pressing for an end to the drip.

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