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Water Conservation Garden Growing Strong With New #FreeDayFriday Program

In a normal year, The Water Conservation Garden in east San Diego County provides resources and education for 88,000 children and families annually. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, meeting the Garden’s mission took a little extra effort and creativity.

To remain open after its initial closure and re-opening in June 2020, the Garden now charges a small admission fee. Thanks to the new #FreeDayFriday initiative, supported by a donation match through the Rice Family Foundation, more than $60,000 in contributions now allows the Garden to offer free admission on the second Friday of each month, starting February 12.

Water Conservation Garden-#FreeDayFriday-conservation

Water Conservation Garden Growing Strong With New #FreeDayFriday Program

In a normal year, The Water Conservation Garden in east San Diego County provides resources and education for 88,000 children and families annually. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, meeting the Garden’s mission took a little extra effort and creativity.

To remain open after its initial closure and re-opening in June 2020, the Garden now charges a small admission fee. Thanks to the new #FreeDayFriday initiative, supported by a donation match through the Rice Family Foundation, more than $60,000 in contributions now allows the Garden to offer free admission on the second Friday of each month, starting February 12.

“We can now create #FreeDayFriday so every person in the community, no matter their ability to pay, can enjoy all the Garden has to offer,” said Jennifer Pillsbury, Water Conservation Garden executive director and CEO.

The Garden continues operations under safety modifications

Outdoor fitness classes including yoga are popular at The Garden. Photo: The Garden

Outdoor fitness classes including yoga are popular at The Garden. Photo: The Garden

Since its reopening to the public on June 16, the Garden continues to offer programs with modifications under California health and safety guidelines due to the pandemic, including limiting visitor admissions and requiring masks.

The Garden’s series of fitness and wellness programs remain on site, including outdoor bodyweight workout classes and yoga sessions. Classes take place mornings and evenings, including a family yoga program for kids. The full schedule is available on the Garden’s new website.

Pam Meisner, AKA Ms Smarty Plants, offers The Garden's elementary school education program virtually. Photo: The Garden (screenshot)

Pam Meisner, AKA Ms. Smarty Plants, offers the Garden’s elementary school education program virtually. Photo: The Water Conservation Garden

The Garden’s elementary school education program featuring Ms. Smarty Plants is now available online for grades K-2 and 3-6, including full lesson plans and video. Safely distanced Family Field Trips are also available for schools, homeschool groups, and individual classes.

“Our garden, not only is it an educational site, but we have classes that coincide with how to make what you see at our garden happens, where to buy the supplies, and how to do it,” said Pam Meisner, director of operations and education and founder of the Ms. Smarty Plants program. “We are the go-to place in San Diego for sowing beauty with low water use plants.”

“We can’t survive without water. But people don’t value that. One of our reasons being here is to show them the value of water and make that part of your life,” added Meisner.

Classes on sustainability, gardening, and art are currently offered online. Professional one-on-one phone or video consultations on water harvesting, and how to set up, retrofit, and maintain your irrigation or landscape are available by reservation through the website at thegarden.org/consultations

To support the Garden through the ongoing #FreeDayFriday program, visit FreeDayFridays.org.

A task force of water agencies and municipalities conceived the Water Conservation Garden in response to six years of drought in San Diego County.

Otay Water DistrictHelix Water District, and Cuyamaca College kick-started the effort in 1990. By 1992, the San Diego County Water AuthorityCity of San Diego, and Padre Municipal Water District joined the effort, forming the original Water Conservation Authority.

The following year, the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District approved the establishment of a 4.5-acre Water Conservation Garden adjacent to Cuyamaca College.

demonstration garden, WaterSmart, Helix Water District

Helix Water District Creates WaterSmart Demonstration Landscape

Helix Water District recently completed a new demonstration landscape outside of its administration building in La Mesa. The project is intended to inspire and educate the surrounding communities to install WaterSmart landscaping, and it serves as an example that residents can use to help design their own landscaping.

The demonstration landscape includes three unique WaterSmart gardens on the streets around the building, including a Mediterranean garden on University Avenue, a desert landscape on Lee Avenue and a California native landscape along the building’s main entrance on Quince Street. The three gardens exemplify different types of plants that thrive in the climate of San Diego County and only need half to one-fifth of the water that a traditional lawn needs.

“Our new demonstration landscape shows customers that water-efficient landscaping is not just one style,” said Helix Water District Board President Mark Gracyk. “You can choose plants that compliment your home and personal taste – there is an option for everyone.”

Helix Water District, demonstration garden, WaterSmart, native plants

The native plants in the demonstration garden show that WaterSmart landscaping not only saves water and maintenance costs but can be beautiful too. Photo: Helix Water District

Interactive garden gives residents visual design inspiration

Each garden is full of a variety of flowers of different colors and textures. Plant markers are placed to identify each plant and QR codes provide easy access to plant names, sun and water needs, mature size and photos when scanned through the camera of a smartphone.

The water district also created an interactive webpage https://hwd.com/demonstration-landscape where customers can make a list of their favorite plants and download design plans. Information on water-efficient irrigation and rebate programs is also available.

Helix Water District, WaterSmart, demonstration garden

The garden includes interactive elements such as descriptive signs with QR codes that visitors can scan to learn more about specific plants. Photo: Helix Water District

“We’ve made it easy for customers to learn about WaterSmart plants and landscaping,” said Gracyk.

WaterSmart landscapes provide homes for wildlife and pollinators

In addition to requiring less water, WaterSmart landscapes also require less maintenance and provide habitat for local wildlife and pollinators such as honeybees, birds and butterflies.

“Outdoor water use typically accounts for half of a home’s total water use,” said Helix Water District Board Vice President DeAna Verbeke. “With our new demonstration garden, we’re encouraging people to upgrade to a WaterSmart landscape by showing them that water-wise plants are not only sustainable but beautiful as well.”

The project was partially funded through a grant from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Helix Water District provides water treatment and distribution for 277,000 people in the cities of El Cajon, La Mesa and Lemon Grove, the community of Spring Valley and areas of Lakeside – east of downtown San Diego. Helix is also a founding member of The Water Conservation Garden, a nearly six-acre water-wise demonstration garden in El Cajon.

IRWM - SD Wild Animal Park Biofiltration Wetland

Projects Create Wetlands, Improve Water Quality in San Diego Region

Since 2005, the San Diego Integrated Regional Water Management Program has supported and funded water conservation, water quality and resource projects throughout San Diego County.

Program partners, including staff of the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies, the California Department of Water Resources, and regional water industry leaders, met at the Water Conservation Garden at Cuyamaca College Monday to celebrate 15 years of achievements.

The program facilitates collaboration on water resources planning and projects in the region by water retailers, wastewater agencies, stormwater and flood managers, watershed groups, the business community, tribes, agriculture, and nonprofit stakeholders.

Collaboration improves regional water quality

Projects supported and funded by the program, or IRWM, have increased long-term water supply reliability, improved water quality, created wetlands and increased local water supply sources. Funding for the IRWM projects is provided from several propositions approved by voters and administered through the California DWR.

“Since it started, the Water Authority has been a strong supporter of the IRWM, partnering with the City and County of San Diego to develop the program,” said Water Authority General Manager Sandra L. Kerl, in a keynote address at the Monday meeting. “Bringing diverse stakeholders together through collaboration funds water reliability projects throughout the San Diego region.”

The collaboration has resulted in improved water supply reliability through the successful funding of conservation, water reuse, and other supply projects throughout the region, she said.

Another benefit of collaborating through the program is it brings traditionally underrepresented communities to the table to have projects funded.

Environmental health and safety, open space

The San Diego IRWM program has helped fund 25 projects in disadvantaged and underrepresented communities supporting the improvement of water reliability and water reliability in all parts of the region.

A project in Encanto to improve Chollas Creek was funded under the IRWM Program and sponsored by the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovations Project.

The restoration of Chollas Creek was intended to improve environmental health and safety, surface water quality, and availability of green open space for Encanto, a disadvantaged urban community in San Diego.

IRWM Program - Chollas Creek - WNN

A project in Encanto to improve Chollas Creek was funded under the IRWM Program. Photo: Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovations Project

Wetlands, educational opportunities

Another project funded under the IRWM program, created wetlands to improve water quality at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. The biofiltration wetland project, sponsored by the San Diego Zoo Global, has also served to educate thousands of students, teachers, and park visitors through various programs.

The IRWM continues to identify opportunities to fund projects to bring multiple benefits to the region.

The program is included in California’s draft Water Resilience Portfolio, released in January. Three state agencies created the portfolio, which proposes recommended actions to help California cope with more extreme droughts and floods, rising temperatures, declining fish populations, aging infrastructure and other challenges.

Several state officials visited San Diego County on July 18, 2019 to assess the region’s water projects as part of their role in developing a water portfolio strategy for the state.

Native plants can add beautiful color to your sustainable landscape, while attracting pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies. Image: Water Authority

Design a Native Garden

If you haven’t finished planting your sustainable garden yet this year, you still have some time. Choose native plants that will thrive in the arid San Diego County climate.

Native plants are naturally drought-tolerant. They also support local ecosystems by providing food and habitat for pollinators, such as butterflies and hummingbirds. Native plants can fall into one of many categories: trees, succulents, perennials, shrubs, grasses, groundcovers and more.

Create your sustainable garden

Each type of plant serves a different purpose in a sustainable garden.

Trees are a great way to provide natural shade. They also catch water that runs off your roof when it rains.

Perennials often have colorful flowers that bring beautiful colors for your garden.

Groundcovers and shrubs are great for covering dry slopes and catching rainwater.

Succulents look great next to rocks or other features in your garden and are usually low-maintenance.

Need ideas for your new sustainable garden this spring?

The California Native Plant Society-San Diego Chapter will conduct its eighth annual Garden Tour, The Artful California Native Garden: Native Gardens and Art Tour of East County on Saturday, April 4, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Demonstrations will include how to add dry stream-bed bioswales, adjacent natural areas, water catchment devices, slope gardens, charming water features, bridges, sculptures and more in your garden.

Local artists will be meeting and greeting guests in many of the gardens and selling their California native garden themed artwork and crafts.

Tours of private residential gardens

Twelve private residential gardens will be visited on the tour, and their owners will be on-site to answer questions. At the Water Conservation Garden there will be guided demonstrations for planting and tours of the native plant garden.

When: Saturday, April 4, 2020, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Water Conservation Garden
12122 Cuyamaca College Drive West, El Cajon, 92019

Cost: $30 – $40

Workforce Diversity Focus of ‘Women in Water’ Conference

Career opportunities for women in the water and wastewater industry at every level are the focus of the third annual Women in Water Symposium January 16 at Cuyamaca College.

Vanessa Murrell, grant manager for the Center for Water Studies at Cuyamaca College, said the conference’s goal in its third year is to create a community of people with the interest and aptitude to take on what were previously considered non-traditional careers.

Jon Foreman of the San Diego band Switchfoot is among the many fans of The Water Conservation Garden in San Diego's East County. Photo: Water Authority

Water Conservation Garden Celebrates 20th Anniversary Nov. 16

Twenty years ago, people who saw a need to help people conserve water and preserve San Diego’s environment conceived the idea for a demonstration garden.

The Water Conservation Garden celebrates its 20th-anniversary Saturday, November 16 at 5 p.m. with a benefit concert featuring food and drink stations, dancing, auction items and live music provided by The Mighty Untouchables. More information and tickets are available on The Garden’s website.

Native San Diegan Jon Foreman of the Grammy-award winning band Switchfoot is among The Garden’s newest fans after a recent visit.

“It has been an amazing journey,” said CEO Jennifer Pillsbury. “We run six acres with educational exhibits for the public, but we also have a huge education program for the public. Last year we had 42,000 visitors and reached 88,000 kids. When we first opened, we were excited about 1,000 visitors.”

Water agencies and municipalities worked together to bring The Garden to life

The annual Spring Garden and Butterfly Festival is among The Garden's most popular annual events. Photo: The Water Conservation Garden

The annual Spring Garden and Butterfly Festival is among The Garden’s most popular annual events. Photo: The Water Conservation Garden

A task force of water agencies and municipalities conceived The Garden in response to six years of drought in San Diego County.

Otay Water District, Helix Water District, and Cuyamaca College kick-started the effort in 1990. By 1992, the San Diego County Water Authority, City of San Diego, and Padre Municipal Water District joined the effort, forming the original Water Conservation Authority.

The following year, the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District approved the establishment of a 4.5-acre Water Conservation Garden adjacent to Cuyamaca College. With $700,000 in donated services, products, and labor from local nurseries and members of the California Landscape Contractors Association, the Water Conservation Garden came to life. San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob presided over its grand opening in May 1999.

Over the past 20 years, The Garden has added its popular children’s exhibits, bird and butterfly gardens, the Dorcus Utter Memorial Sensory Garden, and the Dorcus Butterfly Pavilion.

“The Garden is here to inspire everyone to use all natural resources efficiently, not just water,” said Pillsbury. “When people see proper irrigation and the right plants in the right location with the right soil, having everything working together can be beautiful and efficient.”

Inspiring positive change in the living environment

Pam Meisner, also known as Ms. Smarty-Plants, started the conservation program in 2008 at the Water Conservation Garden. Photo: The Water Conservation Garden

Pam Meisner, also known as Ms. Smarty-Plants, started the conservation program in 2008 at the Water Conservation Garden. Photo: The Water Conservation Garden

The Water Conservation Garden has been governed as an independent nonprofit organization under its own Board of Directors since 2011. Memberships, donations, grants, facility rentals, gift shop sales, and water district dues fund operations.

With additional land donated by Cuyamaca College, The Water Conservation Garden now covers six acres of displays showcasing water conservation through its themed demonstration gardens and how-to displays on mulch and irrigation.

Students in the Cuyamaca College Ornamental Horticulture program benefit from hands-on education just steps away from their classrooms.

“Students come through and learn plant identification and experience lab learning,” said Pillsbury.

New smart classroom available soon at The Garden

The Garden's amphitheater seats 300 and will host its 20th anniversary benefit concert on Nov. 16. Photo: Water Conservation Garden

The Garden’s amphitheater seats 300 and will host its 20th-anniversary benefit concert on Nov. 16. Photo: The Water Conservation Garden

The Garden will open a new smart classroom available for business retreats, meetings, and seminars. Pillsbury also hopes to book more events in the 300-seat amphitheater.

Through its evolution and innovation, the mission of The Water Conservation Garden remains the same as it did on its opening day 20 years ago: to inspire positive change in the living environment through water conservation and the protection of natural resources.

“We’re here to educate the community on efficient water use, but we also want to be a spot where people can come learn and explore together in so many ways,” said Pillsbury.

Admission to The Garden is free. Docent-led tours take place on the first Saturday of each month at 10 a.m.

Water Conservation Garden Awarded SDG&E Environmental Champion Grant

The Water Conservation Garden’s Ms. Smarty-Plants program received a $25,000 Environmental Champion Grant in June from SDG&E. The award comes as The Garden, at Cuyamaca College in El Cajon, celebrates its 20th anniversary. “SDG&E has been a long-time supporter of The Garden and its innovative Ms. Smarty-Plants education program,” said Jennifer Pillsbury, executive director/CEO of The Water Conservation Garden. “In fact, SDG&E was one of the first funders to provide seed funding that allowed the program to have the widespread impact it has today. We are grateful for their support.”

La Mesa residents Bob and Shan Cissell transformed 2,500 square feet of turf into their own Conservation Garden in La Mesa, winning the 2019 Oty Water District Landscaping Contest. Photo: Otay Water District

La Mesa Conservation Garden Wins 2019 Otay Water District WaterSmart Landscape Contest

La Mesa residents Bob and Shan Cissell’s conversion of 2,500 square feet of thirsty irrigated lawn into a creative conservation garden was selected by the Otay Water District as the winner of its 2019 WaterSmart Landscape Contest.

The annual competition recognizes landscape redesign projects among 13 participating San Diego County water agencies which best represent water-efficient landscaping principles.

Project inspired by free WaterSmart landscaping classes

The Cissells designed their new yard after attending the Water Authority's free WaterSmart Landscape Makeover courses. Photo: Otay Water District

The Cissells designed their new yard after attending the Water Authority’s free WaterSmart Landscape Makeover courses. Photo: Otay Water District

Inspired after their participation in the Water Authority sponsored WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program courses, and by the Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon, the Cissells began their La Mesa Conservation Garden project in April 2018 by removing the sod. They incorporated creative elements including a hand-built waterfall made from an old truck ladder rack, and other solid materials otherwise destined to become trash in a landfill.

Water from a swale feeds the waterfall, then travels through microtubes up a faux bonsai tree — made of concrete and unused materials – to irrigate flower baskets resting at the end of each tree branch. Large tree roots that once ran through their yard now decorate other areas of their yard.

Water from the waterfall grotto travels up the faux bonsai tree in the Cissells' La Mesa Conservation Garden. Photo: Otay Water District

Water from the waterfall grotto travels up the faux bonsai tree in the Cissells’ La Mesa Conservation Garden. Photo: Otay Water District

New efficient irrigation includes drip tubing along the top of the ground, and corrugated drain piping below. The piping allows excess water to irrigate the slopes surrounding the home. To assure their drip system would continue to work properly, the Cissells came up with a system using a birdbath made from an old sink. When their drip system turns on, it feeds the birdbath. The water flows up into the sink and into the overflow hole and back down to the trees. No water is wasted, and mosquito reproduction is avoided. If the birdbath is dry, it means that the drip system is not working properly.

‘Not a single drop of water wasted’

The Cissells’ “Stonehenge” is constructed from large tree roots topped with stones (left), serving as a reminder of what was once the nature beneath them. Photo: Otay Water District

“The coolest thing is that it was a 100 percent makeover from irrigated lawn that took a pathetic amount of water to keep it green, and it wasn’t even green,” said Shan Cissell. “It’s the design, the technical, the labor, the creativity, and the focus on not a single drop of water being wasted that we took seriously.”

The Cissells maximized their viewing area by strategically placing curved walking paths of decomposed granite throughout their yard. Paths are surrounded by vegetation and water-wise plants such as succulents, honeysuckle, pincushion flowers, and manzanita. The Cissells say they their efforts have reduced their water bill as much as 25 to 30 percent.

The Cissells maximized their viewing area by strategically placing curved walking paths of decomposed granite throughout their yard. Photo: Otay Water District

“The Cissells’ unique project proves that creating a beautiful WaterSmart landscape can be both cost-efficient and environmentally beneficial,” says Mitch Thompson, Otay Water District board president and Water Conservation Garden Joint Powers Authority member. “The benefits can be attributed to their efforts in incorporating recycled material along with water-saving features.”

Winners are selected based on overall attractiveness, design, plant selection, and efficient irrigation and maintenance. The Cissells were recognized with a certificate of recognition, gift certificate to a local nursery of their choice, and other promotional items. View more photos of the Cissells’ winning landscape here.

READ MORE: City of Oceanside Selects Drought Tolerant Gardens as 2019 Contest Winners

Switchfoot Guitarist Jon Foreman Sings Praises of San Diego Water Reliability

Switchfoot Guitarist Jon Foreman Sings Praises of San Diego Water Supply Reliability

The San Diego County Water Authority has partnered with San Diego singer and guitarist Jon Foreman of Switchfoot to create a series of videos highlighting the value of water to the region’s economy and quality of life.

From sustaining world-famous tourist destinations to making world-class guitars, the San Diego lifestyle wouldn’t be possible without clean and reliable water supplies delivered by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies.

“It takes a huge investment from the San Diego County Water Authority and its member agencies to maintain the pipes that deliver water across our region,” Foreman says in one of the videos.

Reliable water supply fuels San Diego economy

The video series includes virtual tours of the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, Olivenhain Dam and Reservoir, and the Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon.

Foreman talks with Mark Cafferty, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., about the importance of water to some of the region’s biggest industries.

He also tours the Water Conservation Garden, where residents and businesses can learn how to use water efficiently and “make the most out of every drop.”

BRO-AM brought to you by water

The Water Authority is sponsoring Switchfoot’s annual BRO-AM beach festival, which is set for June 29 at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas.

The Water Authority’s Brought to You by Water outreach and education program is designed to convey the importance of safe and reliable water supplies for sustaining the region’s 3.3 million people and its $231 billion economy.

Starting in 2018, the Water Authority has highlighted some of the region’s core industries – tourism, manufacturing, brewing and agriculture – that would not exist without substantial investments in water supply reliability by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies.