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Local water agencies are planning to offer rebates or professional help to customers during Fix a Leak Week March 18-24. Photo: Traphitho - Cesar Augusto Ramirez Vallejo/Pixabay CC

Save Water During Fix a Leak Week

Local water agencies are planning to offer rebates or professional help to customers who find and repair water leaks as part of national Fix a Leak Week activities March 18-24.

Fix a Leak Week is a reminder every March to check indoor and outdoor plumbing systems for leaks.

The Water Authority offers tips on how to identify and fix leaks around your home. Check for tips and for more information about Fix a Leak Week.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that household leaks can waste nearly 1 trillion gallons of water annually nationwide. Average household leaks can account for nearly 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year – the amount of water needed to wash 270 loads of laundry, according to the EPA. Repairing a leaky toilet can save up to 500 gallons of water a day. That’s enough to fill a backyard swimming pool.

Common types of leaks found in the home are worn toilet flappers, dripping faucets, and other leaking valves. By fixing easily corrected household leaks, homeowners can save up to 10 percent on their water bills.

Sweetwater Authority offers rebates

During March, the Sweetwater Authority offers its customers rebates of up to $75 for leak repairs. Residential and business customers in the district may also schedule a free water audit to evaluate the water efficiency of their property.

Fix a leak during Earth Month in Oceanside

The City of Oceanside offers a Fix a Leak Workshop in conjunction with its Earth Month celebration in April.

A free three-hour workshop “Common Leaks and How to Fix Them” is scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon on Friday, April 26, in the Oceanside Civic Center Community Rooms.

A plumbing professional will describe how to identify and fix leaks.

Residents are encouraged to bring their questions. Attendees will receive a home water audit and leak detection kit. Attendance is free, but seating is limited. Email  to reserve a spot.


The 2017 Spring Garden and Butterfly Festival at The Water Conservation Garden. Photo: Water Conservation Garden

Spring Garden and Butterfly Festival Returns to Cuyamaca College, Water Conservation Garden

Butterfly releases, thousands of landscape and garden plants for sale, and museum tours are among the activities at the Spring Garden & Butterfly Festival at Cuyamaca College on April 27.

Several thousand visitors from throughout the region and beyond are expected to visit the college, which houses The Water Conservation Garden and the Heritage of the Americas Museum. All three institutions have planned an array of family-friendly events. Admission is free.

The Cuyamaca College Ornamental Horticulture Department will hold its largest plant sale of the year. Old Town Trolley Tours of San Diego will provide free, narrated rides to and from the garden, the museum and the college.

Water Conservation Garden celebrates 20th anniversary

The Spring Garden and Butterfly Festival is one of the most popular events in East San Diego County.

The Spring Garden and Butterfly Festival is one of the most popular events in East San Diego County. Photo: The Water Conservation Garden

This year’s festival is especially noteworthy because Cuyamaca College is celebrating its 40th anniversary and The Water Conservation Garden is celebrating its 20th. Both will be hosting displays celebrating their histories.

“The Spring Garden & Butterfly Festival is among the most popular events in San Diego’s East County region, and for good reason,” said Cuyamaca College President Julianna Barnes. “Not only is the plant sale a major fundraiser for our award-winning Ornamental Horticulture Department, this festival also allows our college, The Water Conservation Garden and the Heritage of the Americas Museum to showcase an impressive array of innovative programs we offer to the community.”

The annual event has its roots in the annual Spring Garden Festival plant sale benefiting the Ornamental Horticulture program. The event combined forces with the annual Butterfly Festival at The Water Conservation Garden in 2017.

For more details go to:




Using devices like this rain chain can help you slow and store rainfall for later use. Photo: Contraption/Flickr-Creative Commons License

Catch the Rain By Slowing and Storing It

If rain gutters are installed on your house, water will be directed into downspouts, where it can move with great force and speed. This is especially true in a large storm. Instead of allowing downspouts to discharge directly on hard surfaces like a driveway, path, or patio, think about ways to redirect downspout water into vegetated landscape areas. 

One option is to replace downspouts with rainchains to slow down the water so it can be more easily absorbed when it reaches your landscape areas. Add a rain barrel or cistern at the bottom of downspouts or rainchains and let it overflow into the garden. 

If rain gutters are not installed, water shears off roof surfaces and can cause erosion damage. Areas under the eaves may be covered in permeable groundcovers such as pea gravel, mulch, or rocks to reduce the compacting force of water falling on bare soil. Spreading fresh leaf and wood chip mulch throughout the garden will slow down water. Healthy soil can withstand even the strongest rain.   

Ways of storing rainfall  

Rainwater can also be harvested and stored. Storage vessels include rain barrels and cisterns directly connected to downspouts  

Stored water can be released gradually into the landscaping between winter rainstorms, building up the soil sponge and ensuring that native plants get adequate water during the winter months when they need it most. If you need water in the summer and capture enough of it during the winter, you may be able to use your cistern water for irrigation  

Both rain barrels and aboveground cisterns can be relatively inexpensive to purchase and easy to install. Mosquitos are kept out using screens. With minimum maintenance and common sense, the water can be kept safe. If you plan to store rainwater, make sure the “first flush” is diverted directly into the landscaping before capturing the rainfall that follows.  

Properly placed trees also are excellent landscaping features to help capture rainfall, allowing it to be released slowly over time into the soil.  


This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at 




2009: Taking A Bite Out Of Water Use

Ten years ago, the state and region were facing a water crisis — snowpack levels were below normal and water restrictions were in place.

Thinking outside the box, the Water Authority sweetened its conservation outreach efforts by partnering with the San Diego-Imperial Council of the Girl Scouts to distribute water conservation tip sheets across the region with the scouts’ popular cookies.

In March 2009, 400,000 conservation cards were handed out with 2 million boxes of cookies. “Please take a few moments to implement one or more saving tips,” the cards said. “The amount of water saved could have a huge impact on our region!”

This partnership was part of a $1.8 million outreach program that helped the San Diego region prepare for potential water supply allocations. The campaign was the Water Authority’s largest advertising and marketing effort since the early 1990s.

The first rain after a dry period is called the "first flush." It can wash pollutants off hard surfaces. A better alternative is to filter the first flush through your landscaping. Photo: Skyloader.Creative Commons

Capturing the First Flush of Rainwater

The most important water to capture in your landscape is the first inch of rainfall after a dry spell. This is called the “first flush.”  

Rainfall in dry climates like the San Diego region is often a “first flush” repeatedly due to long stretches between rainy periods. 

The first rainfall washes away pollutants that have gathered on hard surfaces since the last rain. It needs to be filtered as much as possible by landscaping before it goes anywhere else, especially into storm drains that empty into the oceans. 

How much water comes off your roof? 

The shape of your roof doesn’t make any difference. The same amount of water falls on the roof whether sloped or flat. Measure a sloped roof either using an aerial view or from the ground without worrying about the slope itself. Just measure the outside edges the same way you would if it was flat, and calculate the square footage. 

Flat roofs covering a building in one contiguous shape are easier to measure. Some roofs are more complicated. Divide this type of roof into individual squares or triangles. Measure each one at a time, then add the figures together for your total roof area.  

Calculate your potential water capture  

Once you know the total roof area, you can determine the amount of rainfall it generates in gallons, then use the following formula to convert square feet to gallons.  

Formula: Rainfall in Inches x Total Square Feet x 0.62 = Gallons of Rainwater From the Roof 

Example using a 1,000 square foot roof: 1 inch of rain x 1000 x 0.62 = 620 gallons. 

San Diego’s rainfall total for “water year” 2018 was about 3.3 inches. Imagine this amount falling on a 1,000 square-foot roof. The total amount of water runoff during this water year would be 3.3 X 1000 X 0.62 = 2,046 gallons.  

Even in our dry climate, this rainfall adds up to a lot of water runoff. It’s easy to see how important it is to save as much of this water as possible in a landscape designed to be a sponge instead of a brick.  


This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at 




Sustainable Garden

National Report Highlights Success of San Diego Sustainable Landscapes Program

San Diego’s Sustainable Landscapes Program ranked among the most effective landscape transformation programs in the nation in a study released today by the Chicago-based Alliance for Water Efficiency. The “Landscape Transformation Study: 2018 Analytics Report” compiled data from 14 similar landscape conservation programs in the U.S. and Canada.

The Alliance for Water Efficiency concluded that San Diego program participants reduced water use by an average of 114.8 gallons per day, or 34.8 percent. “The Water Authority has established a high benchmark for landscape transformation programs that include rigorous program requirements that result in the achievement of multiple benefits,” according to the report.

By saving about 42,000 gallons of water per project each year, Sustainable Landscapes Program participants who transformed their landscapes save enough water to supply the average four-person household in San Diego County for more than three months.

“This study highlights our success improving water-use efficiency across the San Diego region,” said Jim Madaffer, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “We empower program participants to take a hands-on approach to WaterSmart living, and it’s gratifying to see their pride of ownership in these projects that are changing the way San Diegans think about landscapes. An enhanced environment and happy homeowners are part of the promise of sustainable landscaping.”

The national report was accompanied by a survey of more than 3,000 homeowners across North America, which emphasized that residents are ready to embrace new landscape ideals.

“Beautiful landscapes are a source of pride for homeowners, but the emotional connection we have with our outside spaces is not in conflict with a more sustainable approach. People also want to be smart water users,” said Mary Ann Dickinson, president and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, in a press release today. “Whether it’s installing a more efficient irrigation system, opting for drought-tolerant turf or re-landscaping with climate-appropriate plants, we need to communicate that a sustainable landscape can be beautiful and water-conscious.”

Empowering WaterSmart lifestyles

Efforts to develop the San Diego landscape program began in 2010 with a successful Proposition 84 grant application. Known as the SLP, the program was developed to help homeowners upgrade their yards with climate-appropriate plants, high-efficiency irrigation equipment, rainwater capture and detention features, and soil amendments. The sum of these measures results in multiple environmental benefits, including water use efficiency.

The SLP was a partnership by the San Diego County Water Authority, the City of San Diego, the County of San Diego, the Surfrider Foundation, the California American Water Co. and the Association of Compost Producers. Although the grant-funded SLP pilot has been completed, the Water Authority continues to offer and promote SLP-related programs and resources, such as classes and personalized advice from landscape design professionals, a comprehensive guidebook, financial incentives, a demonstration garden and

Water Authority Water Conservation Program Manager Carlos Michelon said the SLP sets high standards for efficient water use and other sustainable practices above and beyond standard turf removal programs. Participants achieve multiple benefits, including water efficiency, drought tolerance, stormwater management, water quality enhancement and aesthetically appealing designs.

“Using smart irrigation technology and climate-appropriate plants to increase water-use efficiency makes sense,” Michelon said. “Doing so while also tapping rain water as a resource, improving soil health, and creating other environmental benefits makes even more sense. That’s sustainable landscaping in a nutshell.”

Recognizing the variety of landscapes and microclimates in San Diego County, SLP resources helped to inform and empower participants each step of the way.

“When it comes to sustainable landscaping, planning and collaboration are as critical as soil amendments or detention basins, Michelon said. “The synergy resulting from our collaborative partnerships with other agencies and non-profit organizations has created even more value for participants and the region.”

Financial incentives help fund landscape projects

During a pilot period, the Water Authority and its partners provided more than 325 Sustainable Landscape Incentives to San Diego County homeowners to help transform their landscapes into beautiful, climate-appropriate mini-watersheds.

While this locally-administered program is no longer accepting applications, the Landscape Transformation Program administered by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is open to qualifying water customers in the Water Authority’s service area. Effective April 1, 2019, residential rebates will start at $2 per square foot, for up to $5,000 square feet. Added funding by local water agencies (where available) means total incentives may be as high as $3.25 per square foot. An online incentive calculator at identifies incentives for specific proposed projects.

The SLP was made possible by an Integrated Regional Water Management program grant funded by the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006, administered by the California Department of Water Resources.

To properly capture water flow from rainfall, you need to assess where it naturally flows first. Photo: Tae Wook, Creative Commons License

Where Does Water Flow in Your Landscaping?

To capture rainwater and any excess irrigation inthe soil or rain barrels, it is first necessary to understand what happens when water comes off the roof of buildings and moves across the property.  

Where is water moving? 

Make a copy of your landscaping site plan, and label it “Water Plan.” It should have the position of the buildings and major landscaping structures. During a rainstorm, watch what happens to water as it comes off the roof of the house and moves through the property. 

  • Are there any low spots where water pools? 
  • Does water run entirely off the property anywhere? 
  • Do any buildings or hard surfaces such as patios appear to be damaged by water? Is the damage caused by rain, by irrigation, or by both?

Note the direction water moves around the property from one area to another, or through multiple areas. 

Turn on irrigation systems for three minutes, and make a note about where there is any pooling or runoff.  

Assess the downspouts for water volume

Use the following process to figure out how much water comes off any hard surface, whether it is a roof, patio, driveway, or sidewalk. 

First, imagine the total roof area of your garage is 20 by 20 feet square, or 400 square feet, and water flows off it in two downspouts.  

If half the water goes into each downspout, the roof size for one downspout is half your total area. In this example, that is 200 square feet. 

Multiply the square footage for your downspout area by 0.62 to get the gallons of water per inch of rain coming from your downspout. Using our example of 200 square feet, the formula is 200 x 0.62 = 124 gallons.  

Once you have this number, you can plan for the resources needed to capture this water runoff for later use using tools such as rain barrels.  


This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at 




Cuyamaca College officially dedicated its new Center for Water Studies and welcomed several dozen guests to an open house at the technology rich learning hub during the recent Women In Water Symposium. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Opening the Doors to Careers in Water

El Cajon,  Calif. – Cecilia Bernal came looking for a career. Essie Mae Horne was focused on occupational advancement. Michaela Maddox-Gomez wanted to explore her options before she graduates from Mt. Carmel High School.

Bernal, Horne and Maddox-Gomez were among the approximately 250 people packing the Center for Water Studies 2nd annual Women in Water – Exploring Career Pathways symposium on Jan. 17 at Cuyamaca College. The event included nearly two dozen speakers, a half-dozen panel discussions, inspirational messages from water and wastewater industry administrators, a day’s worth of networking opportunities and a bevy of information tables.

“I’m already learning so much,” said Bernal, 30, who has worked as a waitress, retail clerk and pharmacy technician. “Water and wastewater is an important industry, and it’s definitely more interesting that what I’ve done in the past.”

Retirements Create Room for Job Growth

Women In Water symposium attendees take a tour of the Cuyamaca College Center for Water Studies training facility. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Women In Water symposium attendees take a tour of the Cuyamaca College Center for Water Studies training facility. Photo: Cuyamaca College

The opportunities are ample due to an imminent glut of retirements by an aging workforce. Forecasts call for between 1,200 and 1,500 open positions in the next three to four years in San Diego County alone, said Sandy Kerl, the San Diego County Water Authority’s deputy general manager. Forty percent of employees at the Padre Dam Municipal Water District will retire within the next three to five years, said Lisa Sorce, human resources director. Representatives from other utilities presented similar numbers.

“Our industry is experiencing a record number of job openings,” said Sweetwater Authority General Manager Tish Berge. “At Sweetwater Authority, we recruited for almost 10 percent of our workforce just this past year. In addition, water and wastewater jobs are recession-proof, especially working in the public sector. I am excited to show young women that there are great opportunities throughout our industry.”

Maddox-Gomez said she was excited to explore those opportunities.

“This is an area that is really important to our future and to my generation, and I want to learn more about it,” said Michaela, 16, who heard about the symposium from an aunt. “I want to see what kind of options I have.”

Symposium’s Success A Team Effort

Sandy Kerl, deputy general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, was a featured speaker at the Women In Water symposium at Cuyamaca College.

Sandy Kerl, deputy general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, was a featured speaker at the Women In Water symposium at Cuyamaca College. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Women in Water – Exploring Career Pathways, was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation to promote the career advancement of women in the water industry through community college programs, industry internships, curriculum development, and outreach to high schools, transitioning military and military veterans.

Kerl, the keynote speaker, detailed the technological advances in recent years and noted there are more than 200 unique occupations in the water industry.

“If you want an exciting career, be a part of water,” Kerl said. “If you want to be a part of the future, be a part of water.”

Lisa Sorce, human relations director at Padre Dam Municipal Water District, echoed that theme. “There are so many careers in the water industry. You really have to figure out where you want to go.”

Sorce made the comment during a presentation on preparing for career advancement and promotions. For those looking to advance, Sorce said getting ready to be ready is a must. Among her suggestions: Keep an eye on who is getting promoted and find out why; secure the certifications required for positions drawing your interest; and seek out a mentor.

“Make sure your boss knows what your career plans are,” Sorce added. “Look for ways to pitch in.”

The suggestions were helpful to people such as Horne, who was so inspired by last year’s inaugural event that she recruited friends and co-workers to attend this year’s event, too.

Said Horne: “I’m looking to move forward in my career, I’m looking to network, I’m looking to see what opportunities are out there.”

Forum Topics Something for Everyone

Women In Water symposium participants get a close look at the Cuyamaca College water and wastewater program training facility. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Women In Water symposium participants get a close look at the Cuyamaca College water and wastewater program training facility. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Discussions throughout the day ranged from a question-and-answer session during a general manager’s form, to building leadership skills, to internships, cooperative experience and volunteerism. Following a lunch break, Cuyamaca College officially dedicated its new Center for Water Studies and welcomed several dozen guests to an open house at the technology rich learning hub.

Approximately one-third of the attendees at the symposium were girls from local high schools, and scores sought advice from other attendees from the industry.

“I’ve been doing this kind of work for 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Tisa Aguero, a water systems tech supervisor for the City of San Diego Public Utilities. “This event is just amazing.”

(L to R) 2019 poster contest winners Madelieine Inawen, Claire Zhang, Kate hu, Alanis Huang, and Weiyi Xu with their winning artwork. Photo: Courtesy City of San Diego

Creative Kids Educate Region About Water Conservation

Eighteen talented San Diego, Coronado and Imperial Beach elementary school students used their artistic skills to communicate the importance of water conservation in the City of San Diego’s Public Utilities Department 18th annual Kids Poster Contest.

Winning entries in the contest are featured in the 2019 Water Conservation Calendar, which debuts this month. They are available free for pickup at San Diego city libraries, recreation centers, and at San Diego City Hall, 202 C Street downtown.

The theme “How Am I A Water Conservation Hero?” asked students to imagine themselves saving water from being wasted. They could draw, paint, color, cut and paste original artwork depicting one important message about water conservation. Winning students were honored at a City Council presentation in 2018, and their artwork was featured publicly at the San Diego County Fair and San Diego Watercolor Society Gallery.

“The City of San Diego’s Public Utilities Department is proud to sponsor the yearly Kids Poster Contest,” said Brian Hojnacki, a supervising management analyst for city utilities. “It allows us to involve first to sixth graders through art while learning and thinking about water conservation in our region. It’s a win-win for us all.”

In addition to being recognized as community ambassadors and local conservation celebrities, winners received gift cards as prizes and publication in the new calendar. The winning posters will be displayed throughout the City of San Diego all year.

The contest winners for 2018 whose artwork was used to create the 2019 calendar are:

Grade 1     

1st Place – Ruiya Xia, Solana Ranch Elementary School

2nd Place – Isabella Chen, Solana Ranch Elementary School

3rd Place – Angela Han, Solana Ranch Elementary School

Grade 2

1st Place – Weiyi Liu, Stone Ranch Elementary School

2nd Place – Ella Zhao, Monterey Ridge Elementary School

3rd Place – Tracie Liu, Sycamore Ridge School

Grade 3

1st Place – Rachael Ma, Monterey Ridge Elementary School

2nd Place – Alanis Huang, Solana Ranch Elementary School

3rd Place – Kate Hu, Solana Ranch Elementary School

Grade 4

1st Place – Lauren Chen, Monterey Ridge Elementary School

2nd Place – Abigail Wei, Monterey Ridge Elementary School

3rd Place – Caden Phan, Hardy Elementary School

Grade 5

1st Place – Claire Zhang, Solana Pacific Elementary School

2nd Place – Angela Chen, Monterey Ridge Elementary School

3rd Place – Annika Liao, Del Sur Elementary School

Grade 6

1st Place – Madeleine Irawan, Black Mountain Middle School

2nd Place – Eric Shi, Mesa Verde Middle School

3rd Place – Vicky Xu, Solana Ranch Elementary School

Recycled Water Category Winner

1st Place – Katelyn Chen, Oak Valley Elementary

The 19th annual poster competition for the next calendar is now open to students from first through sixth grade. The theme is “Where Can I Catch The Rain, and What Can I Do With It?”

Winning posters will be featured in the 2020 Water Conservation Calendar. Winners will be honored at a San Diego City Council meeting and have their work displayed at the San Diego County Fair and in the San Diego Watercolor Society Gallery. The entry deadline is March 22, 2019. More information is here.


Take a Soil Percolation Test

In the San Diego region, rainfall can be unreliable and insufficient to sustain landscaping without careful planning and a little help. An alternate water source, such as irrigation, may be required.  

To make choices about the best, most efficient irrigation system for your landscape, it’s important to learn how well your soil drains.  

How does your drainage perform? 

Assessing how well water drains through your soil involves a simple percolation or drainage test. Follow these four steps: 

1) Dig a hole the size of a one-gallon plant, about 12 inches deep and 12 inches wide. 

2) Fill the hole with water and wait. Time how long it takes the hole to drain completely. This is needed to saturate the soil. 

3) Once the water has drained and none is visible in the hole, fill the hole with water again.  

4) Lay a stick or a shovel handle across the top of the hole, and measure the distance from the top of the hole at the handle or stick to the top of the water once every hour until it drains completely the second time. You may want to set a timer so you don’t forget to make your measurements. 

Percolation and soil quality 

If your soil drains more than four inches per hour: You have sandy soil. You need to add organic matter to improve the soil.

If your soil drains less than one inch per hour: Your soil needs extra help to drain. Try sheet mulching (link to page 19) 

If your soil drains from one to four inches per hour: Good news, your soil is a sponge and drains well. This is the goal.    

It isn’t difficult to build healthy, well-draining soil. Get our tips on how to create health soil here.


This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at