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Oceanside’s Landscape Management Balances Beauty and Water Conservation

Thousands of visitors descend on the beautiful city of Oceanside every week. They are in town to hit the beach, swim or surf, go boating or fishing, and visit the historic Mission San Luis Rey. They come in such numbers that Oceanside’s population can swell from just over 170,000 to nearly 200,000.

All these visitors bring a huge benefit to the local economy. Beautifying the local landscape makes sense for both the well-being of local residents and the increased attractiveness for visitors.

To encourage water conservation as drought conditions persist, North County water district offer discounted rain barrels to area residents. Photo: Solana Center

Water Districts Offer Discounted Rain Barrels

Due to the persistence of California’s unprecedented megadrought, capturing rainfall when it occurs is a conservation priority. Several water districts in North San Diego County are offering discounted rain barrels.

To encourage water conservation as drought conditions persist, the Olivenhain Municipal Water District, Carlsbad Municipal Water District, San Dieguito Water District, and Santa Fe Irrigation District, are offering discounted rain barrels to area residents.

Collecting rainwater for future use saves both potable water and consumer costs. Capturing rainwater also reduces irrigation runoff that can carry pollutants into local waterways and beaches. This is especially true in the “first flush” of the rain season currently underway.

Capture the rain

Fifty-gallon barrels are on sale for $97, with a final cost of $62 after a $35 rebate from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Rebates on rain barrels and other water-saving measures are available at www.SoCalWaterSmart.com.

Rain barrels ordered through November 30 will be available for pick up at the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation at 137 North El Camino Real in Encinitas. Visit the Solana Center’s website for more information and to place your order.

Rain barrels conserve water for Watersmart landscape maintenance

Although San Diego County’s average rainfall in normal seasons is just under ten inches annually, even light rain can provide enough water for later use. A roof with a 2,000-square-foot surface area can capture 300 gallons from only a quarter inch of rain.

Rain Barrels-Drought-Water Conservation

Stored water can be released gradually into Watersmart 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 additional water in the summer and capture enough of it during the winter, you may be able to use your stored water for supplemental irrigation.

Rain barrels are inexpensive to purchase and easy to install. Practice pest management and use screens to prevent mosquito breeding. With minimum maintenance and common sense, the water can be kept safe.

(Editor’s note: The Olivenhain Municipal Water District, City of Carlsbad, San Dieguito Water District, and Santa Fe Irrigation District, are four of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

If You Don’t Already Live in a Sponge City, You Will Soon

Like anything else, water is great in moderation—urbanites need it to survive, but downpours can flood streets and homes. And as you might have noticed, climate change isn’t good at moderation. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, supercharging storms to dump more water quicker, which can overwhelm municipal sewer systems built for the climate of long ago. Thus you get the biblical flooding that’s been drowning cities around the world, from Zhengzhou, China, to Seoul, South Korea, to Cologne, Germany, to New York City.

In response, urban planners are increasingly thinking of cities less as rain jackets—designed to whisk water away as fast as possible before it has a chance to accumulate—and more as sponges. By deploying thirsty green spaces and digging huge dirt bowls where water can gather and percolate into underlying aquifers, “sponge cities” are making rain an asset to be exploited instead of expelled.

Water Conservation-A side by side look at before and after photos of the Rancho San Diego Association landscape renovation, completed with assistance from the County's Landscape Optimization Service. Photos: Courtesy Rancho San Diego HOA

Spring Valley HOA and Watershed Benefit From Landscape Optimization Service

Conserving water and reducing pollution are two of many benefits from a new program in San Diego County.

Through a partnership between the County of San Diego’s Watershed Protection Program and the San Diego County Water Authority, residences and businesses in unincorporated areas of the county became eligible for newly enhanced water-use efficiency rebates in 2021. The Waterscape Rebate Program saves money for residential, commercial, and agricultural customers who make landscape upgrades to improve the region’s climate resilience and reduce the flow of pollutants into waterways.

The new concierge-style assistance program helped members of a Spring Valley homeowners association benefit from available incentives and rebates. As a result, residents saved money on landscape upgrades while reducing the flow of pollution into waterways and conserving water.

Rancho San Diego Association, the first HOA to complete a project through the program and a customer of Otay Water District and Helix Water District, replaced nearly 40,000 square feet of unused grass and installed smart irrigation timers. Photo: Courtesy Rancho San Diego Association

Rancho San Diego Association, the first HOA to complete a project through the program and a customer of Otay Water District and Helix Water District, replaced nearly 40,000 square feet of unused grass and installed smart irrigation timers. Photo: Courtesy Rancho San Diego Association

To make applying for rebates easier for large landscapes, the county added a Landscape Optimization Service, a unique technical assistance program for large-scale landscaping projects. The program helps applicants with large landscapes, such as HOAs and commercial properties, navigate the requirements, overcome barriers, and maximize their rebate eligibility.

LOS staff analyzes estimated water and cost savings, which details how quickly the project will pay for itself. The program also offers discounted designs to participants.

The finished project is estimated to reduce water use by almost two million gallons annually. Their total project costs prior to the rebate were approximately $120,000. After the rebates, the HOA paid just $13,000 for the project. Photo: Courtesy Rancho San Diego Association Landscape Optimization ServiceThe finished project is estimated to reduce water use by almost two million gallons annually. Their total project costs prior to the rebate were approximately $120,000. After the rebates, the HOA paid just $13,000 for the project. Photo: Courtesy Rancho San Diego Association Landscape Optimization Service

The finished project is estimated to reduce water use by almost two million gallons annually. Their total project costs prior to the rebate were approximately $120,000. After the rebates, the HOA paid just $13,000 for the project. Photo: Courtesy Rancho San Diego Association

VIDEO: Learn more about the program and see the Rancho San Diego HOA transformation

First of its kind assistance program

“Many of our larger customers, such as HOAs, are run by volunteers who don’t have the time or resources to undertake large landscape projects,” said Joni German, Water Resources Specialist at the Water Authority. “Most of their landscapes were put in during the 1970s, and many are ready for a water-efficient upgrade. This partnership with the County enables us to offer HOA customers a first-of-its-kind program with assistance from start to finish.”

Rancho San Diego Association, the first HOA to complete a project through the program and a customer of Otay Water District and Helix Water District, replaced nearly 40,000 square feet of unused grass and installed smart irrigation timers. The project is estimated to reduce water use by almost two million gallons annually. Total costs prior to the rebate were estimated at $120,000. After rebates, the HOA paid $13,000 for the project.

Currently, seven San Diego County HOAs are working through the process of removing common area grass with the support of County of San Diego contractor Environmental Incentives.

Their project is estimated to reduce water use by almost two million gallons annually. Their total project costs prior to the rebate were approximately $120,000. After the rebates, the HOA paid just $13,000 for the project.

The project is estimated to reduce water use by almost two million gallons annually. The total project costs prior to the rebate were approximately $120,000. After rebates, the HOA paid $13,000 for the project.

“The County is proud to partner with HOAs, like the Rancho San Diego Association, to help protect local waterways by transitioning to a more sustainable landscape,” said Scott Norris, Land Use Environmental Planning Manager with the County Water Protection Program. “We look forward to expanding the Landscape Optimization Service in the coming years to assist more properties in upgrading their outdoor space and helping protect water quality.”

Sustainable landscapes produce multiple benefits, which include reducing water use, enhancing habitat, increasing stormwater retention, and decreasing runoff.

The enhanced incentives include rebates starting at $3 per square foot for turf replacement, $60 per smart controller station, $65 per rain barrel, and up to $450 per cistern. In addition to offering technical assistance to upgrade larger landscapes on multifamily and commercial properties, a cost-share is available for agricultural growers to make water-saving upgrades.

Water customers in unincorporated San Diego County can determine their eligibility at SanDiegoCounty.gov/WatershedRebates. The Landscape Optimization Service is actively recruiting new participants.

Protecting our watershed by conserving water

The Waterscape Rebate Program helps to protect local waterways by reducing pollutants that enter storm drains. When irrigation systems overflow from landscaping, runoff may carry pollutants like pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers into the storm drain system and cause the same adverse effects as runoff from rainfall. Reducing turf helps reduce irrigation use and runoff.

The program includes outreach and education to commercial, industrial, and residential properties in unincorporated areas of the county. San Diego County is also offering programs with rebates for upgrades, including rain gardens, gutters, permeable pavement, and regular septic system pumping.

(Editor’s note: The Helix Water District and Otay Water District are two of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

Floating Solar Panels Could Be the Next Big Thing in Clean Energy

Solar panels can be placed on your roof, on a plot of land, or basically anywhere else where they  are anchored to something solid. That said, there are only so many solid spaces available to install them. To beat climate change, our electricity mix is going to need a lot more renewable energy systems to take over fossil fuels.  Many in the solar industry are looking for a new home for solar panels—possibly even floating on water.

Floating solar farms have been around for over a decade, but water-bound panels became much more prominent in the last few years. The basic idea is to attach solar panels to plastic floats which then drift on a body of water.

Padre Dam Municipal Water District-Landscape Makeover Winner-WaterSmartSD-drought

Winter Weather Perfect Time for WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series

December rainfall and cooler temperatures in San Diego County make it the perfect time of year for homeowners to create low-water-use landscaping to fit their needs. The San Diego County Water Authority offers its first 2022 WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series of free online classes starting Wednesday, February 2. The classes provide homeowners site-specific knowledge, skills, and confidence to transform their thirsty turf yard into a beautiful, climate-appropriate, water-efficient space.

Registration for the four-class series closes on Monday, January 17. Register at WaterSmartSD.org. There is no fee to participate, but course participation is limited.

Custom plans and one-on-one professional guidance

Landscape Makeover-Sweetwater Authority-Water Conservation-native plants

This landscape makeover winner shows how contouring your landscaping can help retain and conserve water. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Water Authority Water Resources Specialist Joni German said the course will give participants a customized roadmap to follow.

“We have different templates and themes to design the garden you want,” said German. “Do you need turf for the kids or pets? A meditation space? Or do you want to screen out undesirable views? With our help, you design the landscape that fits your lifestyle.”

Ideal time for new plants

German said with soils now soft and spongy, it’s the ideal time of year to add new plants and creating a new water-wise landscape.

As part of the course, participants will receive a site visit prior to the class, a preliminary onsite CAD drawing of their property to work with during the class, and one-on-one coaching from landscaping professionals.

Turf rebate programs offer rebates of up to $3 per square foot toward project costs for upgrading existing turf. To date, several hundred homeowners have transformed their landscapes into beautiful, climate-appropriate mini-watersheds which yield benefits including stormwater runoff reduction and lessening green waste in addition to saving water.

Positive participant feedback for free program

Eileen Koonce says she was able to install her own landscaping with the help she received from instructors. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Eileen Koonce says she was able to install her own landscaping with the help she received from course instructors. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

German said the program has evolved through the years in part due to feedback from previous participants, including information about capturing rainwater and cutting back on irrigation.

“People frequently say to us, ‘I can’t believe this program is free!’ Recent participants tell us the time flies, and they go from feeling overwhelmed to confident about their landscape projects,” said German.

Vallecitos Water District Development Services Coordinator Eileen Koonce participated in the course as a new homeowner to reduce her water usage by removing her thirsty front lawn.

Koonce said she enjoyed working with the instructors.

“They bring the language down to the do-it-yourselfers,” said Koonce. “They walk you through every part of it and if you have questions, they can help you out. You feel empowered because you can understand the process.”

Landscaping design and planining

Landscaping designers can expedite your landscape makeover plans. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Koonce tackled most of the design work herself with the help of instructors, who are licensed landscape architects. Instructors helped Koonce pick out the plants and choose an irrigation system.

After participants sign up for the four-class course, a site visit will take place with a local, licensed landscape specialist who will create a professionally-drawn site plan of your specific project area. The plans becomes a personal road map to navigate through the classes. Before the class concludes, homeowners get one-on-one coaching to help select plants and finalize their plan.

Watch the preview video

Homeowners with questions about the course can email or call (858) 598-5085 for information. Space is limited so homeowners are encouraged to apply now at WaterSmartSD.org. 

(Editor’s note: The Sweetwater Authority, Vallecitos Water District, and the Padre Dam Municipal Water District are three of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

Watershed areas such as the land around the El Capitan Reservoir was assessed in the 2020 Watershed Survey by the City of San Diego. Photo: City of San Diego

Watershed Survey Helps Maintain San Diego Regional Water Quality

The City of San Diego Public Utilities Department conducts regular surveys of its watersheds to monitor and maintain high water quality within those watersheds.

The City recently released its 2020 Watershed Sanitary Survey. Conducted and issued every five years since 1996 as required by California law, the report identifies actual or potential causes of local source water contamination that might adversely affect the quality and treatability of City of San Diego water.

The updated information is used as a basis for future watershed management and planning efforts. City of San Diego tap water meets all state and federal drinking water health standards, the primary standards for treating and monitoring water.

“Development and other activities in our watersheds can have a profound influence on the quality of our water,” said Shauna Lorance, director of the City of San Diego Public Utilities Department. “The Watershed Sanitary Survey is important for identifying potential negative impacts and ways to better protect our watersheds.”

Watershed protection critical to safe, reliable water supply

Everything that is on the land, whether a natural feature or a human activity like grazing cattle at this area near the Sutherland Reservoir, is part of the watershed. Photo: City of San Diego

Everything that is on the land, whether a natural feature or a human activity like grazing cattle at this area near the Sutherland Reservoir, is part of the watershed. Photo: City of San Diego

A watershed is an area of land that drains water into a specific body of water. Everything that is on the land, whether a natural feature or a human activity, is part of the watershed. Many places San Diego County residents live, work, and play in are watershed areas.

There are 11 westward draining watersheds in San Diego County.  Six are within the City of San Diego: San Dieguito River, Los Peñasquitos, Mission Bay and La Jolla, San Diego Bay, San Diego River, and Tijuana River.

The City of San Diego’s nine water supply reservoirs have a combined capacity of over 550,000 acre-feet and more than 900 square miles of watershed lands tributary to these reservoirs. Local runoff from watersheds captured in City reservoirs accounted for about 11% of total drinking water production from 2015-2020.

Six of San Diego County's watershed regions lie within the City of San Diego boundaries. Map: City of San Diego

Six of San Diego County’s watershed regions lie within the City of San Diego boundaries. Map: City of San Diego

Reservoirs are critical components of the regional water supply system, as water is supplied to nearly two million people in the City of San Diego and neighboring communities. Protecting these water sources is vital to providing healthy and safe drinking water. The public can assist in preventing watershed damage through source reduction and preventing stormwater runoff.

The 2020 survey noted these changes since the 2015 Watershed Sanitary Survey:

  • Total area of residential and commercial development in the watersheds increased slightly by about 2%.
  • A total of 412 new construction permits were recorded for onsite wastewater treatment systems located within the watersheds.
  • The number of fires occurring in the watersheds increased by about 8%.
  • Leaking underground storage sites decreased by 53%.
  • Sanitary sewer overflows increased by 36%.

The survey offers recommendations including continuing and expanding public awareness programs to help protect watershed, and implementing projects and programs to improve land management and water quality of source waters. All recommendations will be used for future watershed management and planning efforts.

The full 2020 Watershed Sanitary Survey, as well as past surveys, is available on the City’s website.

Editors Note: The City of San Diego is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies working collaboratively with the Water Authority to increase the value, reliability, and safety of water for ratepayers in San Diego County.

A new County of San Diego online resource can help you protect watershed by diverting it from the storm drain system. Photo: NIH.gov

San Diego County Website Helps Residents Protect Watershed

Because San Diego County gets so little natural rainfall, most residents must artificially irrigate their landscaping. Rainfall becomes a welcome sight when it occurs.

But rainfall turns into an unwelcome problem when it enters the storm drain system. After the first heavy rain in several months, stormwater runoff gathers pollutants building up on surfaces like rooftops, parking lots, sidewalks, and streets. This polluted water gets carried into street drains that dump out directly into the Pacific Ocean. Pollutants harm waterways and affect sea animals, plants, and the people who surf, swim, or dive in the ocean.

Residents may be contributing to this problem between rainstorms without realizing it. Your yard drainage system including French drains, weeping tiles, and sub-surface drains should not be used for non-stormwater water runoff.  They are intended only to prevent flooding by diverting rainwater from your property to the road or street.

If your irrigation system overflows from landscaping, runoff water may carry pollutants like pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers into the storm drain system. Photo: Wikimedia

If your irrigation system overflows from landscaping, runoff water may carry pollutants like pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers into the storm drain system. Photo: Wikimedia

If your irrigation system overflows from landscaping, or wash water runs off hardscapes or sidewalks, these non-stormwater activities may carry pollutants like pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers into the storm drain system and cause the same negative effects as runoff from rainfall.

The County of San Diego’s Watershed Protection Program in the Department of Public Works has created a webpage with useful information and photos to educate the public and assist in preventing watershed damage. Program Coordinator Christine A. Tolchin, QSD, QISP, CPESC says new information is added monthly.

The County of San Diego’s Watershed Protection Program in the Department of Public Works has created a webpage with useful information and photos to educate the public and assist in preventing watershed damage. Program Coordinator Christine A. Tolchin, QSD, QISP, CPESC says new information is added monthly. Photo: SDCounty.gov

The County of San Diego’s Watershed Protection Program in the Department of Public Works has created a webpage with useful information and photos to educate the public and assist in preventing watershed damage. Program Coordinator Christine A. Tolchin, QSD, QISP, CPESC, says new information is added monthly. Photo: SDCounty.gov

Stormwater diversion tips

The website shares these tips to prevent non-stormwater runoff from carrying pollutants into our waterways.

  • Redirect sprinkler heads and hose down items such as patio furniture away from your yard drain.
  • Temporarily cover your yard drain with a bowl or mat when watering.
  • Use dry methods such as sweeping to clean your gutters, patio, and yard.

Your property should also integrate best practices to slow down and divert natural stormwater runoff after heavy rains. Three common methods include:

  • Detention: Protect against flooding by temporarily pooling runoff on your property, allowing pollutants to settle before being discharged to the storm drain system.
  • Infiltration: Divert stormwater runoff to areas where water can soak into the soil and benefit from natural filtering such as gravel, mulch, or grassy trenches.
  • Vegetated: Uses landscape plants and soil to remove pollutants from stormwater runoff through flow-thru planters, buffer strips, and vegetated swales.

Yard drains and diversion methods should regularly be cleared of debris so they operate properly and are ready for a storm event. It’s a good time to do it now while the sun is shining in San Diego.