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The winning landscape makeover using Nifty Fifty plant choices. Photo: City of Escondido

2024 Landscape Makeover Contest Open For Entries

The 2024 WaterSmart Landscape Makeover competition seeks the best in landscaping makeover projects from 12 participating San Diego County water agencies. This popular annual competition is now open for entries. Its goal is to showcase residential water-saving landscaping ideas, inspiring others to consider their own projects.

Carolina Schultz's transformed landscape demonstrates how homeowners can create a beautiful, California-friendly landscape using less water. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Carolina Schultz’s transformed landscape demonstrates how homeowners can create a beautiful, California-friendly landscape using less water. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Different approaches by the winning entrants from past years demonstrate the wide range of options for creating lush, beautiful landscapes that rely more on native plants and less on large areas of thirty grass. The creative results and personal stories help inform and inspire homeowners to consider their own new yard designs.

Participating agencies in 2024 include California American Water, the cities of Escondido and Oceanside, Helix Water District, Olivenhain Municipal Water District, Otay Water District, Padre Dam Municipal Water District, Rincon Del Diablo Municipal Water District, San Dieguito Water District, Sweetwater Authority, Vallecitos Water District, and Vista Irrigation District.

Share your landscape makeover skills in next year's contest to inspire your neighbors. Photo: Helix Water District 2024 landscape makeover contest

Share your landscape makeover skills in the 2024 contest to inspire your neighbors. Photo: Helix Water District

Each agency winner receives a $250 gift certificate and public recognition for their efforts. Homeowners may also be eligible for turf removal rebates and other rebates plus additional incentives that can help defray project costs.

This year’s contest deadline for all participating agencies is Friday, May 10, 2024. Homeowners may submit their entry online or through their participating agency. Residents must live within agency boundaries to participate.

WaterSmart landscapes more climate-resilient and eco-friendly

Carolina Schultz now waters her yard only once a month when needed. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Carolina Schultz now waters her yard only once a month when needed. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

WaterSmart landscapes are more climate resilient than traditional lawns by using less water, fertilizers, and pesticides. They provided a happier habitat for pollinators.

The majority of residential water use in San Diego County is used outdoors, primarily for water landscaping. When yards contain a large amount of grass, that can greatly increase overall water consumption. Conservation education efforts, including the WaterSmart Landscape Contest, focus on ways to create landscapes customized for your favorite activities, incorporating the needs of children, pets, accessible areas, pollinators, and specialty gardens.

“Cooler winter months are an ideal time to plant when there is a greater chance of rain, and the soil does not dry out as quickly,” said Water Authority Water Resources Specialist Debby Dunn. “To make creating your new waterwise wonderland easier, take advantage of the Water Authority’s free virtual workshops as well as our short and educational online videos.”

Dunn also recommends getting a copy of the Nifty 50 Plant List. “An environmentally friendly landscape with lush and colorful plants will entice birds, bees, butterflies, and friends into your garden,” said Dunn.

Free landscape makeover classes offered by Water Authority

Mike Williams took advantage of free resources offered by the Vallecitos Water District and San Diego County Water Authority. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Mike Williams took advantage of free resources including classes offered by the Vallecitos Water District and San Diego County Water Authority. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

The Water Authority offers free options to help homeowners plan landscape makeovers. Homeowners can get started with the Water Authority’s free three-hour introductory landscaping workshops scheduled on weeknights and Saturdays. The workshops are held virtually.

The Water Authority’s WaterSmart Landscape Makeover four-class workshop series offers more specific planning help for homeowners. See the course page for the most current schedule and to sign up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Funding is still available in 2024 to install water-efficient toilets and smart irrigation controllers in underrepresented communities across the region. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority low-flow upgrades

Funding Still Available in 2024 For Free Low-Flow Upgrades

Income-qualifying residents in the San Diego region can still benefit from a grant-funded program replacing outdated toilers with high-efficiency models in 2024.

More than 6,000 high-efficiency toilets have been installed free of charge to date in under-represented communities across the region through a grant-funded program run by the San Diego County Water Authority.

Funding remains available to replace about 4,000 more outdated toilets with professionally installed, high-efficiency models at no cost. Eligible communities include mobile home communities, multi-family units, and income-qualifying single-family homes.

Qualified applicants for low-flow upgrades include mobile home communities, multi-family housing, and income qualifying single family homes. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Qualified applicants for low-flow upgrades include mobile home communities, multi-family housing, and income-qualifying single-family homes. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Smart irrigation controllers are also available at no cost through the program. Participants must be residential customers within the Water Authority’s service area.

Learn more about the program, including eligibility requirements and the application process at Direct Install Program.

Free upgrades conserve water, save money

High efficiency toilets and smart irrigation controllers conserve water while saving costs. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority low flow upgrades

High-efficiency toilets and smart irrigation controllers conserve water while saving costs. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

“This is a great way for residents to get a free home upgrade that conserves water and saves on water bills,” said Mel Katz, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “Water affordability is a top priority for the Water Authority, and this program is one of many ways we are combatting inflationary pressures on water prices.”

Through the Direct Install Program, toilets that use 1.6 gallons or more per flush are replaced with premium, high-efficiency models that use half the water. The program is entirely funded by more than $4 million in grants from the California Department of Water Resources Integrated Regional Water Management and Urban Community Drought Relief programs and through the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Water Authority pursues funding for region’s water system

In addition to the Direct Install Program, the Water Authority is taking numerous other steps to enhance affordability. For instance, the agency helped secure $25 million to cover overdue residential water bills resulting from the economic impacts of COVID-19.

The Water Authority also operates an industry-leading asset management program designed to avoid the extreme costs of emergency repairs on large-scale water pipelines.

In 2024, the Water Authority is working with Washington, D.C. officials to secure federal funds to defray the cost of generational upgrades to local dams and reservoirs.

North County Water Agencies Offer Low-Cost Rain Barrels to Help Customers Save Water

Encinitas, CA — To encourage water conservation, Olivenhain Municipal Water District, San Dieguito Water District, and Santa Fe Irrigation District have partnered to offer discounted rain barrels to area residents. Fifty-gallon barrels are on sale for $97, with a final cost of $62 after a $35 rebate from water wholesaler Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Rain barrels ordered from January 1 to February 29 will be available for pick up at Solana Center for Environmental Innovation located at 137 North El Camino Real in Encinitas.

California Set to Become 2nd State to OK Rules for Turning Wastewater Into Drinking

When a toilet is flushed in California, the water can end up in a lot of places — the ice in a skating rink, the manufactured snow on ski slopes, in pipes providing irrigation for farmland. And — coming soon — in your drinking glass.

Olivenhain Municipal Water District Logo landscape design workshops

Olivenhain Municipal Water District Partners with Village Park Manor Condos to Reduce Drinking Water Demand

Encinitas, CA—Olivenhain Municipal Water District continues to reduce its imported drinking water demand by converting seven meters within the Village Park Manor Condominium community to recycled water. Village Park Manor is located in Encinitas and began in December irrigating its common areas using recycled water.

With the successful conversion of the seven meters to recycled water, Village Park Manor will save nearly six million gallons of imported water each year.

The Man Caught at the Center of California’s Water Wars

Climate change is wreaking havoc on the water systems that Californians rely on, from the Sierra Nevada to the Colorado River basin.

No one knows that better than Adel Hagekhalil, who as general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, is at the epicenter of the state’s most intractable water woes.

Opinion: California Will Get $295 Million From Feds to Use Less Colorado River Water. Here’s Why Some Utahns Aren’t Happy.

California just agreed to significantly cut its Colorado River water use, but the deal might not be the conservation boon that it seems.

Who Must Give Up Colorado River Water? As Conservation Talks Start, Tensions Rise

The seven states that share the Colorado River’s water celebrated some conservation wins at their annual meeting here this week but quickly began sparring over who will bear the brunt of future pain that they agree a drying climate will dole out.

CA Farmers Agree to Conserve 100,000 Acre-feet of Lake Mead Water in Exchange for Compensation

Southern California has agreed to conserve enough water in Lake Mead to support upwards of 300,000 single family homes for a year under an agreement struck with the federal government.

A new landmark agreement led by the San Diego County Water Authority will provide regional water solutions which include storing water in Lake Mead. Photo: National Park Service

Landmark Water Exchange Agreement Saves Water and Costs  

A new landmark water exchange agreement will increase water levels in Lake Mead, fight upward pressure on wholesale water rates, and create a new template for water management in the arid West.

The one-year agreement was announced on Friday, December 1 by the San Diego County Water Authority. The agreement is supported by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and executed in coordination with the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Metropolitan). Funds to facilitate the deal are from the federal 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.

The new agreement highlights ways water agencies can work together under existing laws and agreements to adapt to the changing climate.

“This is a great example of what happens when we collaborate and work together. Cooperation by all three water agencies and the Bureau of Reclamation produced a creative solution that helps sustain the Colorado River,” said Water Authority Chair Mel Katz. “Today’s announcement is an innovative win-win-win solution that helps us all meet the incredible challenges we face.”

Agreement Reduces Threat of Water Shortages

The agreement builds on the groundbreaking 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA). It achieves several goals by helping California meet conservation obligations under the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River Basin conservation program, supporting financial viability for participating agencies, and reducing the chances for more shortages. The Colorado River system has suffered drought-induced decline for more than 20 years.

The new arrangement is expected to save the Water Authority a projected $15 million to $20 million (depending on hydrological variables), which will help offset the impact of inflation and other factors on water rates.

Water Agency Cooperation Builds on Original QSA Partnership

Officials recognizing the Quantification Settlement Agreement 20th Anniversary (L to R): Jim Barrett, Coachella Valley Water District GM, Miguel Luna, Chair of the Legal and Claims Committee with the MWD Board, State Assemblyman David Alvarez (D-80), Water Authority GM Dan Denham, Colorado River Board of California Vice Chair and Water Authority board member Jim Madaffer, Water Authority Board Chair Mel Katz, Jamie Asbury, IID GM, MWD General Manager Adel Hagekhalil, IID GM Alex Cardenas. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Officials recognizing the Quantification Settlement Agreement 20th Anniversary (L to R): Jim Barrett, Coachella Valley Water District GM, Miguel Luna, Chair of the Legal and Claims Committee with the MWD Board, State Assemblyman David Alvarez (D-80), Water Authority GM Dan Denham, Colorado River Board of California Vice Chair and Water Authority board member Jim Madaffer, Water Authority Board Chair Mel Katz, Jamie Asbury, IID GM, MWD General Manager Adel Hagekhalil, IID GM Alex Cardenas. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

The Water Authority, Metropolitan, and IID have been working together for several months on ways to capitalize on current water supplies. Due to a historically wet year, the State Water Project is delivering full supplies to Metropolian, refilling reservoirs and reducing demand for imported Colorado River water. The Metropolitan Board of Directors approved the agreement in November, and the IID Board followed with its approval on December 1.

“This partnership between Metropolitan, Imperial Irrigation District, the San Diego County Water Authority, and the Bureau of Reclamation is another example of how solutions developed collaboratively can benefit everyone,” said Adán Ortega, Jr., chair of the Metropolitan Board of Directors. “Our individual efforts to reduce our reliance on the Colorado River can be magnified by our growing and mutual interdependence leading to creative and lasting solutions, where the people we all serve win, as does the environment.”

How the Water Exchange Works

QSA-Colorado River-modeling framework-USBR landmark exchange landmark agreement

In October 2003, the San Diego County Water Authority, Coachella Valley Water District, Imperial Irrigation District, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, State of California, and U.S. Department of the Interior completed a historic set of agreements to conserve and transfer Colorado River water.

The Water Authority will leave 50,000 acre-feet of conserved QSA water in the Colorado River. This helps raise the level of Lake Mead, which has dropped in recent years. The volume is equivalent to the amount of water used in a year by approximately 150,000 single-family homes.

The Water Authority agreed to buy 50,000 acre-feet from Metropolitan to meet current and future demands. The Water Authority’s cost savings result from the difference between the Metropolitan rate and the rate for IID’s conserved water through the QSA. The Bureau of Reclamation will cover the cost of the Water Authority’s QSA supplies left in the river.

“This transfer is an example of how Southern California water agencies are leading with creative water management,” said Water Authority General Manager Dan Denham. “This agreement is based on decades of working together through the QSA, and it makes good on our collective commitment to the river. While this is a one-year arrangement, it will open the door for additional talks between partnering agencies in 2024.”