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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.

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: https://thegarden.org/springfestival/

 

 

 

Paul Redeker surveys displays at The Water Conservation Garden, located on the campus of Cuyamaca College. Photo: David Ogul, Water Authority

Inspiring Change at The Water Conservation Garden

Horticulture director embraces educational mission

WaterSmart landscapes are transforming San Diego County’s neighborhoods in part due to the work of Paul Redeker and his colleagues at The Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon.

“We’re a learning center, not just a place where you’re surrounded by beautiful plants,” said Redeker, who recently returned for a second run as director of horticulture and facilities the garden. “All of our exhibits are geared toward teaching. We are all about educating the public to be inspired to make changes in their lives because we’re literally at the end of the water pipeline.”

Driving that point home is a giant pipe protruding from a landscaped embankment with water trickling from its opening into a lily pond near the entrance to this one-of-a-kind, six-acre conservation showcase on the campus of Cuyamaca College.

“I love the educational element,” Redeker said. “The learning that goes on in this garden regarding low-water options is wonderful.”

‘Wonderful’ low-water options

The Water Conservation Garden feature a Native Habitat Garden, the Compost Exhibit, the Veggie Garden and the Succulent Garden. Take a free, docent-led tour the first Saturday of each month at 10 a.m. Illustration: The Garden

The Water Conservation Garden feature a Native Habitat Garden, the Compost Exhibit, the Veggie Garden and the Succulent Garden. Take a free, docent-led tour the first Saturday of each month at 10 a.m. Illustration: The Garden

Opened in 1999, The Water Conservation Garden is owned by a joint powers agency comprising the San Diego County Water Authority, the Otay Water District, the Helix Water District, the Sweetwater Authority, the City of San Diego Public Utilities and Cuyamaca College. From the start, the garden was seen as an important conservation tool in a region with few natural water resources.

More than 30,000 people visit each year, and the garden’s programs reach an additional 80,000. It is the educational element that lured Redeker back. “The learning that goes on in this garden regarding low-water options is wonderful,” he said.

Born and raised on a Sonoma County ranch, Redeker earned his bachelor’s degree in ornamental horticulture, with a focus on landscape design, from Cal Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo. He worked at several Northern California nurseries before exploring other career interests overseas.

Redeker returned to California and was designing landscapes for a San Diego company when he fell in love with public gardens and landed a position as The Water Conservation Garden’s director of horticulture more than 10 years ago.

After five years in El Cajon, he expanded his professional expertise at the San Diego Botanic Garden, another regional showcase garden in Encinitas. “It gave me a wonderful understanding of how larger gardens operate,” said Redeker.

A constantly evolving gem of a garden

Plans are underway for new displays including an interactive irrigation exhibit, watershed exhibit, and a new outdoor classroom. Photo: David Ogul, Water Authority

Plans are underway for new displays including an interactive irrigation exhibit, watershed exhibit, and a new outdoor classroom. Photo: David Ogul, Water Authority

Redeker returned to his “little gem of a garden” last fall, and he is thrilled with the opportunities to innovate. “We are always looking to improve the experience so that when people come back, they can see something new and fresh,” he said.

Projects under way or in the planning stages at The Water Conservation Garden include:

  •  An interactive irrigation exhibit to help visitors understand and appreciate different types of water-saving technologies.
  •  A watershed exhibit with a “follow the raindrop” feature that illustrates the benefits of strategic stormwater management.
  •  More than a dozen strategically placed, drought-tolerant trees – including the Silk Oak , Blue Atlas Cedar, Sweetshade, and the Variegated Brisbane box – have been planted throughout the garden to help keep summertime temperatures in check.
  •  An expanded indoor classroom that will more than triple capacity to nearly 100.
  •  A new outdoor classroom, covered with a shade structure, will replace the current outdoor class space.

“The new classroom is going to be huge for us,” said Pam Meisner, the garden’s director of operations and programs. “We simply don’t have the room to accommodate demand for all of our adult-education landscaping and gardening classes.”

Among the permanent features is a Retrofit Backyard Exhibit that includes a traditional backyard lawn – complete with a depiction of a homeowner struggling to mow a greenbelt that drinks some 28,000 gallons of water annually – adjacent to a more visually appealing, and less labor-intensive garden featuring drought-tolerant plants that uses just 6,000 gallons of water each year.

“People are being smarter and much more creative with what they’re doing with their landscape,” said Redeker. “We’re seeing smarter plant choices, more hardscape, more patios, more mulch, dry streambeds and the like, and it’s making a difference.”