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Drought Prompts Hearst Castle to Close Restrooms, Drain Pool

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The toilets are closing at Hearst Castle, but don't worry, not all is lost. Starting next Monday, the castle's visitor center transition to porta potties outside the building.

The move by castle, which is run by California State Parks, is to comply with Gov. Jerry Brown's Executive Order to redouble drought actions across the state. In January, he declared a drought State of Emergency as the drought entered another year, making it one of the most severe in recent California history.

"We're the biggest account and customer for the local water districts," said Doug Barker, State Parks District Manager for the region. "800,000 people visit every year. Each visitor using the restroom is a major demand on the system." The castle and visitor center is served by one water district, with nearby campgrounds served by another.

Thirty standard chemical restrooms, eight ADA accessible chemical restrooms, and at least six hand sanitizer stations will be available at the visitor center. Porta potties will continue to be accessible at the castle itself, as it has for the past several years.

A total of 8,000 gallons of water per day were used in July 2013, said Tom Kidder, the regional maintenance chief for state parks. This year, he expects to see a 75 percent reduction in water use.

Earlier this year, castle staff drained the Neptune Pool to conserve water. The pool leaked and evaporated 5,000 gallons of water per day and will later be repaired.

Other facilities at the Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument, which the castle is a part of, have also seen water conservation measures go in place. Day-use restrooms are already closed at the Santa Rosa Creek, Leffingwell Landing, and Washburn day-use areas. Same for the San Simeon Campground, which used to use 11,000 gallons of water a day, but is expected to go down to 2,000 this year, according to Kidder. Part of that use came from water faucets and showers, which are now turned off and are the reason campsite fees have been reduced. Campers must now bring their own drinking water.

Back at Hearst Castle, no new annual plants are being placed in the gardens, irrigation is primarily done by hand, extensive mulch has been placed in the gardens, and vehicle washing has also been eliminated. Water usage monitoring and frequent inspections for leaks in the plumbing systems are ongoing.

Last month, "SoCal Connected" covered residential lawns in relation to the drought. Nearly 60 percent of the water bill goes to watering the landscape in Southern California -- most of that is grass. The average sprinkler system in the U.S. is only 55 percent efficient. A lot of that water "hardscapes," watering sidewalks and streets.

In Governor Brown's Executive Order, he also asked residents to voluntarily cut water use by 20 percent. He later urged residents to limit watering lawns to twice a week.

"SoCal" Reporter Jennifer Sabih discussed alternative grasses such as the UC Verde Buffalograss and the California Bentgrass. A typical lawn uses 3,000 gallons of water. California Bentgrass uses 1,500 gallons of water, while UC Verde Buffalograss consumes 750 gallons of water, a 75 percent reduction.

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