How Much Water Do Plants Need?

It’s important to assess how much water your outdoor plants need to stay healthy. The heat and humidity in San Diego County is far from over, with the official start of Fall September 23. Irrigation needs are generally highest during these warm months.

Did you know that plants can be classified by their water needs?

Landscaping professionals use a resource called the Water Use Classification of Landscape Species, or WUCOLS, to classify plants according how much water they need to thrive.

It might sound complex, but it’s very useful because it breaks down the water requirements for each type of plant. There are four categories: Very Low, Low, Moderate, and High. These water requirements are also called Plant Factors. They are an important tool for transitioning to a more water-efficient landscape. By knowing exactly how much water your plants need, you can cut down on your water usage while also keeping your plants happy.

Calculating water requirements for outdoor plants

To calculate a Plant Factor, compare the plant’s water use to cool season grass in a given climate zone.

Why is that? Turf is among the thirstiest of all types of plants. When you replace turf areas with climate-appropriate plants with lower water requirements, and irrigate them with more efficient systems, you can greatly increase your water efficiency. You don’t have to turn your landscaping into a dry moonscape to do it.

Plant factors, or PF, categories:

Plant Factor categories from high to low water use. Graphic: Water Authority

High: Plants need from 60 to 100 percent of the water needed for a grass lawn (PF of 0.6 – 1.0)

Moderate: Plants need 30 to 60 percent of the water needed for a grass lawn (PF of 0.3 – 0.6)

Low: Plants need 10 to 30 percent of the water needed for a grass lawn (PF of 0.1 – 0.3)

Very Low: Plants need 10 percent or less of the water needed for a grass lawn (PF of less than 0.1)

Group plants by PF to irrigate more efficiently

In the Water Authority’s Sustainable Landscaping guidebook, plant selections are color-coded to identify their water needs under this system. That approach provides an easy way to group plants by their water requirements in your landscape, so you can irrigate more efficiently.

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

Chula Vista fifth graders enjoy their first visit to the new Hydro Station educational facility. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

New Educational Hydro Station Project Opens in Chula Vista

The first Hydro Station in California opened August 15 in Chula Vista.

The interactive educational space is a joint partnership between the Sweetwater Authority, Otay Water District, and the Chula Vista Elementary School District.

The Hydro Station, at the Richard A. Reynolds Groundwater Desalination Facility, features learning exhibits and hands-on activities to introduce fifth grade students to the ecological cycle of water, water conservation, water quality, and careers in the water industry.

More than 4,000 students are expected to visit the Hydro Station annually.

Making the world ‘a better place’

“The Hydro Station introduces our students to the world of work in the water industry and inspires them at an early age to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics,” said CVESD Superintendent Dr. Francisco Escobedo. “With this station, we expose students to careers that can change the trajectory of entire families, opening the door to high-wage careers that our students might not have thought were possible.

“The students also explore ways to make the world a better place through clean water, and water conservation,” added Escobedo.

Students drink in details about water conservation at the opening of the Hydro Station in Chula Vista. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Students drink in details about water conservation at the opening of the Hydro Station in Chula Vista. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

New generation encouraged to consider careers as water industry professionals

More than 2,800 people work in the water and wastewater sector at the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies. One-third of these industry professionals will be eligible for retirement in the next few years.

“It’s an opportunity for a new generation to join us in our mission to deliver safe and reliable water to hundreds and thousands of people in communities that rely on us as water professionals,” said Tish Berge, Sweetwater Authority general manager.

As part of the Hydro Station experience, students will have three dedicated days focused on career opportunities in Information and Communication Technologies, Clean Energy, and the Blue Economy. They will learn how their strengths, interests, and values may align with career options. Hands-on activities will also help them make connections to specific careers.

Hydro Station mission is about education and conservation

“I have served many years in the water industry, which has allowed me to experience the evolving industry climate firsthand,” said Mark Watton, Otay Water District general manager. “The high level of retirements, new technologies, and increased demand for safe drinking water all contribute to the availability of good, stable careers and employment.”

“We want to make sure that a rewarding career in the water and wastewater industry is within reach for as many local students as possible who are vocational or college bound, and the Hydro Station helps us do that,” he added.

Visitors to the new Hydro Station's grand opening mark the occasion with a selfie. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Visitors to the new Hydro Station’s grand opening mark the occasion with a selfie. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

The Hydro Station’s location is ideal to educate students on how their strengths, interests, and values can connect with careers in the water industry while presenting opportunities to solve real-world problems through the Engineering Design Process. It will also serve to educate children and their families, as well as the community, on the thoughtful use of water resources.

Leaky indoor faucet - Shutterstock

Helix Water District, Sweetwater Authority Offer Smart Leak Detector Rebates

The Helix Water District has rolled out a new smart leak detector rebate program. Helix and Sweetwater Authority customers can get a rebate of up to $100 when they purchase a smart leak detector.

The detectors sync to smartphones, allowing customers to monitor water use 24/7 via smartphone and the devices notify customers of leaks and water consumption amounts.

Smart Leak Detectors

There are two types of smart leak detectors: plumbed devices and external devices, according to Helix.

  • Plumbed Devices
    Plumbed devices are plumbed into your existing water lines. Most of these devices can automatically shut the water off at their point of installation, or allow you to shut your water off remotely, in case of a leak. Since these devices tap into your existing plumbing system, a licensed plumber and permit may be required for installation. Plumbed devices are typically more expensive than external devices.
  • External Devices
    External devices attach to the outside of your water meter, typically with some type of strap, making them simple to install. Since external devices are not directly attached to your plumbing system, they do not have the ability to automatically shut off your water, or allow you to shut off your water remotely, if a leak occurs. External devices are typically less expensive than plumbed devices.

Measure All of Your Water Use

To monitor indoor and outdoor water use, install the leak detector before the point where your irrigation line branches off. This way, the device can alert you of faulty irrigation programming, broken sprinklers or outdoor leaks. This is important, because outdoor use is about half of a typical home’s total water use.

To monitor indoor water use only, install a smart leak detector on your water service line after the point where your main irrigation line branches off.

Install Smart Water Leak Detector

How to install smart water leak detectors to monitor water use or leaks. Graphic: Helix Water District/Sweetwater Authority

Rebates are first come, first served

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

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.”

Support from water agencies help fund innovative education program

Support from the San Diego County Water Authority and from several other water agencies also was critical to establishing and growing the program, which reached over 80,000 children and adults a year by 2016.

The six-acre garden is governed by an independent, nonprofit board of directors and receives funding from the San Diego County Water Authority, City of San Diego, Cuyamaca College, Helix Water District, Otay Water District and the Sweetwater Authority. Memberships, donations, grants, facility rentals and gift shop sales also support The Garden.

Conservation education program in 11th year

Water agencies created The Garden to demonstrate water conservation techniques and to provide environmental education.

“In its 11th year, the Ms. Smarty-Plants programs have touched nearly 350,000 children and adults, focusing on youth from disadvantaged communities who have limited access to safe nature spaces,” Pillsbury added.

Pam Meisner is Ms. Smarty-Plants

Pam Meisner 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. Meisner is a lifelong educator with more than 30 years teaching experience advocating for fun and interactive learning in nature as well as bringing conservation into the classroom.

Upcoming events at The Water Conservation Garden

  • August 23: Nature Nights with Ms. Smarty-Plants
  • August 24: Water System Consultation with Brook Sarson of CatchingH2O/H2OME
  • September 28: Backyard Composting Workshop

On November 16, The Garden is hosting a 20th anniversary concert. The event begins at 5:00 pm with a reception featuring food and drink stations, music and unique auction items.

For more information on these and other events go to:

Vallecitos Water District contest winners are honored at the July board L to R: Sierra Whiteside, Zofia Dowd. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

San Diego County Students Inspire Water Conservation Through Art

Three talented fourth grade students in north San Diego County will have their winning drawings featured in the 2020 “Be Water Smart” calendar produced by the Vallecitos Water District. The students were honored by the District’s Board of Directors at its July meeting.

To develop and promote water conservation awareness from an early age, the District holds a calendar contest available to all fourth graders in its service area. The top three drawings go on to represent the District in the regional North County Water Agency calendar for the following year.

Water conservation art features nature themes

Sierra Whiteside is the first place winner and "Viewer's Choice winner in the Vallecitos Water District calendar art contest. Photo: Courtesy Vallecitos Water District

Sierra Whiteside is the first place winner and “Viewer’s Choice” winner in the Vallecitos Water District calendar art contest. Photo: Courtesy Vallecitos Water District

Sierra Whiteside from Carrillo Elementary School won first place and also the “Viewer’s Choice” award through a public vote on the District’s social media channels. She wins a froYo party compliments of Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt. Sierra says she will save water by “making an invention that gives you only the water you need.”

Sofia Dowd won second place in the Vallecitos Water District calendar art contest. Photo: Courtesy Vallecitos Water District

Zofia Dowd won second place in the Vallecitos Water District calendar art contest. Photo: Courtesy Vallecitos Water District

Zofia Dowd from Double Peak School received second place for her artwork featuring a whale. Zofia says she will save water by “taking short showers, not running water, taking buckets to fill up water in the rain, and will only use water when needed.”

Lia Van Der Jagt won third place in the Vallecitos Water District calendar art contest. Photo: Courtesy Vallecitos Water District

Lia VanferJagt won third place in the Vallecitos Water District calendar art contest. Photo: Courtesy Vallecitos Water District

Lia VanderJagt, also a student at Double Peak School won third place for her artwork depicting the earth. Lia says she will save water by “doing my best to use less of it and value it more.” She will take shorter showers and only fill her cup to what she can drink.

Skylar Groke from Carrillo Elementary School is the honorable mention winner. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Honorable mention went to Skylar Groke from Carrillo Elementary School for his rainbow artwork.

All winners received Amazon gift cards.

The Vallecitos Water District extends its sincere appreciation to Menchie’s and all of the students who participated in this year’s contest. The contest is held annually with a submission deadline of April 10. Click here for contest rules and entry form. For questions or to receive a free calendar, contact the District’s Public Information Department through or at (760) 744-0460.

READ MORE: Poster Contest Winners Illustrate ‘Water Is Life’



July is "Smart Irrigation Month," designed to call attention to efficient irrigation techniques to preserve the world's fresh water supply. Photo: Irrigation Association

Smart Irrigation Month Highlights Water-Efficient Technology

San Diego regional water agencies are sharing water-efficiency tips during “Smart Irrigation Month.”

July is traditionally the month of peak demand for outdoor water use and the reason it was chosen as Smart Irrigation Month when it started in 2005. The month celebrates the social, economic, and environmental benefits of efficient irrigation for landscapes, recreation and agriculture.

Smart Irrigation Month highlights irrigation technology innovations and encourages water-efficient irrigation techniques to preserve the world’s fresh water supply.

Member agency activities for Smart Irrigation Month 2019

The Otay Water District is participating in "Smart Irrigation Month" education via its social media channels and website. Photo: Otay Water District

The Otay Water District is among those participating in “Smart Irrigation Month” education via its social media channels and website. Photo: Otay Water District

The Otay Water District is helping its customers increase water-use efficiency during Smart Irrigation Month with a dedicated webpage of tips. Customers can apply for a free WaterSmart Checkup by calling 760-728-1332 or at

The Helix Water District also offers free home water use checkups to its customers by phone 619-667-6626 or email

And, the City of Oceanside Water Utilities Department is hosting a free Smart Irrigation Workshop at Mira Costa College on Saturday, July 13. The event has reached capacity, but customers can all 760-435-5816 to get on a waiting list and be notified about future events.

Nine Watering Tips For #SmartIrrigationMonth

Inspect your sprinkler heads regularly to make sure they are not obstructed or watering onto pavement or other hardscapes. Photo: Irrigation Association

Inspect your sprinkler heads regularly to make sure they are not obstructed or watering onto pavement or other hardscapes. Photo: Irrigation Association

July is an ideal month to perform a check on current irrigation systems and determine whether any practices can be improved to save water. The San Diego County Water Authority offers these nine Smart Irrigation Month tips:

  • Select sprinkler heads and nozzles that apply water uniformly to the target area.
  • Inspect your sprinkler heads regularly to make sure they are not obstructed or watering onto pavement or other hardscapes.
  • Upgrade to a smart controller. Weather and soil moisture-based controllers can automatically adjust your watering schedule based on the conditions at your location.
  • Use drip or low pressure, low volume irrigation which applies water directly to the base or roots of plants.
  • If water is applied too quickly, it can run off into the street or sidewalk. Smart irrigation regulates water pressure, ensuring water has a chance to soak into the ground.
  • Less is more when watering turf. Water long enough to soak down to the root zone, then don’t water again until the soil is completely dry. If the grass springs back when you step on it, it has enough water.
  • The greatest waste of water in landscape irrigation comes from watering too much, too fast. Instead of watering 20 consecutive minutes, run sprinklers in four five-minute sessions. This allows water to soak into the soil and minimizes runoff.
  • A rain shut-off device is an inexpensive gadget to add to your sprinkler system.
  • Improve efficiency by watering at the coolest time of day. When it’s hot or windy, more than a third of the water can be lost to evaporation.

Find more tips and information on Smart Irrigation Month at


Water Payments Projected To Exceed Cash Reserves By $3.4M

The ag community at a Friday afternoon IID water conservation meeting wanted to know what the IID plans to change with water conservation payments projected to exceed the budget by $11.7 million. IID’s conservation needs under water transfer agreements with the San Diego County Water Authority and others are 303,000 acre feet. Of that, 103,000 acre feet comes from system conservation. The rest comes from on-farm water conservation.

Water Resources Engineer Sami Sweis holds the Nautilus in his right hand and a foam ball in his left hand that the high-tech device is placed in before it is inserted into a water pipeline to scan for potential leaks. Photo: Water Authority

High-Tech Tools Help Detect Possible Pipeline Problems

It’s a whole new ballgame for the San Diego County Water Authority when it comes to finding leaks in major pipelines with cutting-edge technology.

One new tech tool deployed for the first time in February actually looks like a tennis ball that floats through water-filled pipelines scanning for potential trouble.

Of course, the new device is much more complex inside than a tennis ball – in fact, the Nautilus is among the most advanced tools of its kind in the world.  It not only detects defects that are invisible to the human eye, it does so without requiring pipes to be drained, which saves a significant amount of water and disruption to customers.

Innovation Leader

The Nautilus is just the latest component of the Water Authority’s cutting-edge Asset Management Program that has been adopting and developing innovative tools for more than two decades. In fact, the Water Authority has been recognized by the American Water Works Association as a leader in the water industry for its focus on asset condition assessment, risk management, proactive pipeline replacement, and use of cutting-edge technology that saves ratepayers money.

“These high-tech tools are cost-effective and fit perfectly with our proactive approach to managing our infrastructure, including 310 miles of large diameter pipelines and 1,400 pipeline structures,” said Nathan Faber, an operations and maintenance manager with the Water Authority. “Our mission is to find potential failures in the system in advance, rather than react after a failure.”

‘Listening’ for leaks

The Nautilus uses acoustic feedback to detect leaks or abnormalities in active pipelines without causing any disruption to water service or supply, Faber said. About the size of a tennis ball, the Nautilus is placed inside a larger, sterilized foam ball, to float through operating pipelines.

For the First Aqueduct scan, 26 sensors, called synchronizers, were installed on various structures on the outside of the pipeline. Those sensors relayed information to the Nautilus as it floated between checkpoints. No leaks were discovered in the tested portions of the pipeline.

Digital Resolution

A scan from the LIDAR device shows precise and highly-accurate digital measurements that pinpoint pipeline problems. Photo: Water Authority

A scan from the LIDAR device shows precise and highly-accurate digital measurements that pinpoint pipeline problems. Photo: Water Authority

Leveraging new technology to gather data and pinpoint pipeline problems saves water and money.

“Responding or reacting after failures can cost up to six times the cost of proactive repairs,” Faber said.

He pointed to a recent pipeline repair project in La Mesa, where a Light Detection and Ranging device, or LIDAR, was used inside a pipe to provide highly-accurate digital measurements.

“The LIDAR took 1,600 measurements in five seconds,” Faber said. “The high-resolution images showed stressed pipe and verified cracking issues that allowed crews to make an efficient, proactive repair.”


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

Save Water During Fix a Leak Week

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

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

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

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

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

Sweetwater Authority offers rebates

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

Fix a leak during Earth Month in Oceanside

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

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

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

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


Conserving Water Is Still A Priority For California. How About Other States?

The Metropolitan Water District last week re-upped its turf-removal program, providing greater incentives for homeowners to replace thirsty lawns with drought-tolerant plants. In Utah, the state’s Division of Water Resources is encouraging residents to use more water so it can justify spending $3 billion on a pipeline that will take more water from Lake Powell, which is fed by the Colorado River, a source of water for Southern California residents. This tale of two states brings up an interesting question: Is water conservation de rigueur or passé?