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Cemeteries director: Water cutbacks a ‘moral mandate’

April 17, 2015
Christina Gray

When California Gov. Jerry Brown issued the first-ever statewide mandatory water reduction order April 1 after the lowest winter snowpack on record, cemeteries, along with golf courses, universities and other keepers of large, irrigated grounds were expected to immediately implement water efficiency measures consistent with statewide 25 percent reduction targets.

According to cemeteries director Monica Williams, water usage has already been evaluated and restricted at all five of the cemeteries operated by the Archdiocese of San Francisco, including those that use only reclaimed or well water.

Williams told Catholic San Francisco on April 10 that she considers cutbacks not just a legal requirement but a moral mandate. “It’s the right thing to do,” she said.

At Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma; Holy Cross Cemetery in Menlo Park; Mt. Olivet Cemetery in San Rafael; Our Lady of the Pillar Cemetery in Half Moon Bay; Tomales Cemetery in Tomales; and St. Anthony Cemetery in Pescadero, water-saving measures include the less frequent watering of lawns, the planting of drought-resistant landscaping, the use of new water-efficient hoses and irrigation equipment and the planting of drought-resistant shade trees.

Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, which is built on an aquifer, an underground layer of water-permeable rock, gravel, sand or silt from which groundwater can be extracted, used 30 percent less water in 2014 than the previous year by changing its watering schedule, according to Willams.

“We came off what was a daily watering schedule to an every other day watering schedule,” she said.

She is also looking into newer technologies for accurately measuring and maintaining the level of water in cemetery wells.

Williams said the cemeteries will continue to monitor the health and appearance of lawns, balancing the need to use water wisely with the need to maintain peaceful-looking grounds.

“Our cemeteries are such a part of the Catholic tradition and we don’t want to take away from the serenity they offer,” she said.

Williams said that because “there is still room for improvement,” the new 25 percent reduction order is doable. “But should the drought continue for several more years,” she said. “It is likely we will see some browning of lawns in some areas.”

Areas of the cemetery without burials would be the first to be impacted, she said.

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