Janet and Conrad Becks' winning design came from their desire to save water and to showcase their makeover. Photo: City of Oceanside drought tolerant gardens

City of Oceanside Selects Drought Tolerant Gardens as 2019 Contest Winners

The City of Oceanside selected Janet and Conrad Beck’s colorful, vibrant garden as its 2019 WaterSmart Landscape Contest winner. The couple transformed their plain, water-wasting lawn into a drought-tolerant garden.

The annual contest recognizes exceptional water-wise landscapes in San Diego County based on overall attractiveness, design, appropriate plant selection, and water efficient irrigation.

Makeover saves water

The winning landscape earned the Becks a $250 grand prize. The makeover evolved from the Becks’ desire to save water. The garden’s plant palette includes a wide variety of California native and drought-tolerant plants, what they now describe as a “whimsical” garden.

By also replacing their automated irrigation system, the couple realized a water savings of more than 3,700 gallons of water per month, virtually cutting their water bill in half.

Drought tolerant gardens provide habitat while saving resources

Homeowner Gerald Wharton was inspired to bring back livable habitat for native flora and fauna when creating his drought tolerant garden. Photo: City of Oceanside drought tolerant gardens

Homeowner Gerald Wharton was inspired to bring back livable habitat for native flora and fauna when creating his drought-tolerant garden. Photo: City of Oceanside

Three runners-up received honorable mentions along with nursery gift cards.

Homeowner Gerald Wharton was inspired to bring back livable habitat for native flora and fauna when creating his drought-tolerant garden. Once his plants become acclimated and more established, they require less water, and eventually, no irrigation at all.

Homeowner Kim Wascher was motivated to save money on her water bill when she transformed her landscaping. Photo: City of Oceanside

Homeowner Kim Wascher was motivated to save money on her water bill when she transformed her landscaping. Photo: City of Oceanside

Homeowner Kim Wascher first removed her lawn to reduce her water costs and the heavy maintenance that her lawn required. Her original goal grew into a comprehensive landscaping plan. Wascher exchanged her water-thirsty grass for a wildlife habitat now attracting butterflies, lizards, bugs and a variety of birds. On summer evenings, she enjoys watching bats flying through the yard.

Colorful succulents

Laura Cates moved to Oceanside several years ago after living in the U.S. Midwest. She was not familiar with succulents of any kind. But Cates said she was fed up with grass in her front-and-back yards. Her sister-in-law ‘knew her succulents,’ and her enthusiasm for the colorful, easy-to-grow, low-water-use plants grew on Cates.

Laura Cates used succulents to create her winning landscape design in Oceanside. Photo: City of Oceanside drought tolerant gardens

Laura Cates used succulents to create her winning landscape design in Oceanside. Photo: City of Oceanside

Cates is now well-known to her neighbors as a plant guru. She helps others get started with a clipping or two from her own yard. Cates said she likes to think that she’s paying it forward.

The annual WaterSmart Landscape Contest runs annually from January through April. For more information, check online at

For help and inspiration to transform your landscaping, visit

Olivenhain Municipal Water District Logo landscape design workshops

OMWD Hosts Free Landscape Design Workshops

Encinitas, Calif. — Olivenhain Municipal Water District and San Dieguito Water District have partnered to offer free WaterSmart Landscape Design Workshops. The three-hour courses will be held Wednesday, July 17 and Thursday, October 3, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the San Diego Botanic Garden.

Agave attenuata is one of the plants available to qualified Fallbrook PUD customers in its new plant voucher program. Photo: Fallbrook PUD plant vouchers

Fallbrook PUD Offers Plant Vouchers For Sustainable Landscaping

The Fallbrook Public Utility District will offer residents in its service area free low-water or drought-tolerant plants beginning July 1. The district will give qualified residents vouchers redeemable for plants at Silverthorn Ranch Nursery in Fallbrook, which produces plants using recycled water.

“Customers will go through an application process and qualified applicants will receive free plants to install in their landscape,” said Mick Cothran, Fallbrook Public Utility District engineering technician. “We want to encourage and help our customers replace turf with plants that don’t require a lot of water, and show them drought tolerant plants can be beautiful additions to their landscaping.”

The San Diego County Water Authority and its member agencies have encouraged homeowners to implement sustainable landscaping through free ‘WaterSmart’ landscaping classes, and through a variety of rebate programs.

Online application for plant vouchers posted starting July 1

A list of the plants being offered through FPUD’s program is included on its website. Choices include plants like this Beaked Yucca (Yucca rostrada). Photo: Fallbrook PUD

A list of the plants being offered through Fallbrook’s program is included on its website. Choices include plants like this Beaked Yucca (Yucca rostrata). Photo: Fallbrook Public Utility District

An online application will be posted on the FPUD website starting July 1, and submissions will be processed on a first-come, first served basis. Applicants will also be required to submit two photos of the area(s) to be planted, and a basic plan or sketch of the project.

Sustainable landscaping

A list of the plants being offered through FPUD’s program is included on its website. Choices range from five-gallon Dragon trees (Dracaena draco) and Beaked Yucca (Yucca rostrata) to Mini Elephant’s Food (Portulacaria afra ‘Mini’), Silver Dollar Jade (Crassula arborescens), and small succulents including assorted aloe, aeonium, and echeveria.

San Diego County residents have embraced sustainable landscaping practices as a result of increased attention to water conservation, due in part to recurring periods of drought over the past thirty years.

The FPUD program is made possible with grant funding provided by two Metropolitan Water District of Southern California grants through the Water Authority.

California Native Garden Wins Helix’s 2019 Landscape Contest

Matt and Lauren Kirkpatrick of La Mesa are this year’s winner of the Helix Water District’s ‘WaterSmart Landscape Contest,’ an annual competition recognizing outstanding water-wise residential landscapes based on overall attractiveness, design, efficient irrigation and appropriate plant selection and maintenance. Compared to the thirsty turf in the Kirkpatricks’ previous landscaping, the growing, colorful and entirely native new landscaping requires much less water and creates a place of inspiration and peace for these outdoor enthusiasts. Over the two-month billing period ending this April, the home used just 13 units of water, which is almost 40 percent less than the average water use of other Helix customers. One unit is 748 gallons.

The best type of irrigation system for your landscape can depend on many factors, including the size and shape of your landscape and types of plants you have. Photo: California Department of Water Resources

Spray Versus Drip Irrigation: Which is Best for You?

Spray irrigation emits water in an overlapping pattern, while drip irrigation delivers water directly to the roots of plants. How do you decide which meets the needs of your landscaping?

The case for spray irrigation

Spray irrigation can be an efficient way to irrigate large landscapes with groundcover or uniform plant materials like lawns or meadows.

Spray systems apply water in gallons per minute (GPM), so if you know the application rate of each spray head, the distance between the heads, and the pressure of your system, it is relatively easy to figure out how much water is applied every time you run your irrigation.

Low volume spray heads apply water at about one-third the rate of conventional spray heads. Newer spray irrigation heads have improved spray with heavier droplets more resistant to wind. Landscaping with grade changes using spray heads should have check valves installed to prevent water flowing out of the lower point heads.

Challenges of spray irrigation include narrow areas surrounded by hardscape, or irregular patterns. Irregular patterns are particularly challenging, because spray irrigation requires head-to-head coverage to be efficient. Odd-shaped areas may be under or over watered. High-volume spray heads that emit water at a much higher rate than soil can absorb should be replaced.

The case for drip irrigation

Drip systems apply water in gallons per hour (GPH), so they often need to run for longer periods of time than spray systems. But the actual run time must always account for precipitation rate and runoff.

Installing subsurface systems (under at least two inches of mulch) is the most efficient way to irrigate nearly every type of garden area. Since the tubing is flexible, it can accommodate a variety of irregular shaped areas or rectangular areas when laid in a grid pattern, and in rings you can easily expand as trees or shrubs grow.

Challenges of drip irrigation include application of water too quickly for your soil to absorb. This needs to be considered when dripline grids are installed. Drip irrigation operates the most efficiently at low pressure (between 15 and 30 PSI). To achieve optimal performance, pressure regulation either at the valve or at the point of connection of the dripline to the buried lateral lines must be used. It is also essential to install some type of filtering system to keep the emitters from getting clogged.

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


There are new enhanced rebates for removing turf and replacing it with sustainable landscaping. Photo: Water Authority

Cash Rebates Increase for Grass Removal in San Diego Region

Removing grass can generate rebates of at least $2 per square foot for San Diego residents under new enhanced incentives that started this month.

As of April 1, the Metropolitan Water District is offering $2 per square foot for every square foot of grass removed from yards and replaced with sustainable landscaping.

Rebates may vary by water agency, but an online incentive calculator identifies the current rebate amounts.

New rules for turf rebates. Graphic:

New rules for turf rebates. Graphic:

To increase participation, MWD also updated program rules. The rules are listed at the application site.

All San Diego County residents are eligible for the $2 rebate.

But, that’s not all. The San Diego County Water Authority is offering an additional $1.75 per square foot to customers in its service area, with grant funds provided by the California Department of Water Resources.  And, the City of San Diego offers city residents $1.25 per square foot. That means some homeowners can earn as much as a $5 rebate for each square foot of turf removed.

Turf rebate programs have proven popular in Southern California, and funds could go quickly.

Water Authority offers free landscaping classes

While rebates can provide a big boost to landscaping makeover projects, it’s also important to start planning before you start planting.

That’s where the Water Authority’s WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program comes in. Free resources are available to upgrade turf yards.

For instance, the Water Authority offers free landscape makeover classes that help homeowners make smart choices to reduce outdoor water use by designing beautiful and climate-appropriate landscapes for our region.

Find additional water-saving programs, incentives, and classes for residents and businesses at:

“San Diego County homeowners and businesses know that sustainable landscapes are key to water reliability in our region,” said Joni German, who manages the Water Authority’s WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program. With the help of local landscape architects and designers, our WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program gives them the knowledge and skills they need to be successful. WaterSmart landscapes are an upgrade, not a compromise.”

Sustainable Garden

National Report Highlights Success of San Diego Sustainable Landscapes Program

San Diego’s Sustainable Landscapes Program ranked among the most effective landscape transformation programs in the nation in a study released today by the Chicago-based Alliance for Water Efficiency. The “Landscape Transformation Study: 2018 Analytics Report” compiled data from 14 similar landscape conservation programs in the U.S. and Canada.

The Alliance for Water Efficiency concluded that San Diego program participants reduced water use by an average of 114.8 gallons per day, or 34.8 percent. “The Water Authority has established a high benchmark for landscape transformation programs that include rigorous program requirements that result in the achievement of multiple benefits,” according to the report.

By saving about 42,000 gallons of water per project each year, Sustainable Landscapes Program participants who transformed their landscapes save enough water to supply the average four-person household in San Diego County for more than three months.

“This study highlights our success improving water-use efficiency across the San Diego region,” said Jim Madaffer, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “We empower program participants to take a hands-on approach to WaterSmart living, and it’s gratifying to see their pride of ownership in these projects that are changing the way San Diegans think about landscapes. An enhanced environment and happy homeowners are part of the promise of sustainable landscaping.”

The national report was accompanied by a survey of more than 3,000 homeowners across North America, which emphasized that residents are ready to embrace new landscape ideals.

“Beautiful landscapes are a source of pride for homeowners, but the emotional connection we have with our outside spaces is not in conflict with a more sustainable approach. People also want to be smart water users,” said Mary Ann Dickinson, president and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, in a press release today. “Whether it’s installing a more efficient irrigation system, opting for drought-tolerant turf or re-landscaping with climate-appropriate plants, we need to communicate that a sustainable landscape can be beautiful and water-conscious.”

Empowering WaterSmart lifestyles

Efforts to develop the San Diego landscape program began in 2010 with a successful Proposition 84 grant application. Known as the SLP, the program was developed to help homeowners upgrade their yards with climate-appropriate plants, high-efficiency irrigation equipment, rainwater capture and detention features, and soil amendments. The sum of these measures results in multiple environmental benefits, including water use efficiency.

The SLP was a partnership by the San Diego County Water Authority, the City of San Diego, the County of San Diego, the Surfrider Foundation, the California American Water Co. and the Association of Compost Producers. Although the grant-funded SLP pilot has been completed, the Water Authority continues to offer and promote SLP-related programs and resources, such as classes and personalized advice from landscape design professionals, a comprehensive guidebook, financial incentives, a demonstration garden and

Water Authority Water Conservation Program Manager Carlos Michelon said the SLP sets high standards for efficient water use and other sustainable practices above and beyond standard turf removal programs. Participants achieve multiple benefits, including water efficiency, drought tolerance, stormwater management, water quality enhancement and aesthetically appealing designs.

“Using smart irrigation technology and climate-appropriate plants to increase water-use efficiency makes sense,” Michelon said. “Doing so while also tapping rain water as a resource, improving soil health, and creating other environmental benefits makes even more sense. That’s sustainable landscaping in a nutshell.”

Recognizing the variety of landscapes and microclimates in San Diego County, SLP resources helped to inform and empower participants each step of the way.

“When it comes to sustainable landscaping, planning and collaboration are as critical as soil amendments or detention basins, Michelon said. “The synergy resulting from our collaborative partnerships with other agencies and non-profit organizations has created even more value for participants and the region.”

Financial incentives help fund landscape projects

During a pilot period, the Water Authority and its partners provided more than 325 Sustainable Landscape Incentives to San Diego County homeowners to help transform their landscapes into beautiful, climate-appropriate mini-watersheds.

While this locally-administered program is no longer accepting applications, the Landscape Transformation Program administered by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is open to qualifying water customers in the Water Authority’s service area. Effective April 1, 2019, residential rebates will start at $2 per square foot, for up to $5,000 square feet. Added funding by local water agencies (where available) means total incentives may be as high as $3.25 per square foot. An online incentive calculator at identifies incentives for specific proposed projects.

The SLP was made possible by an Integrated Regional Water Management program grant funded by the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006, administered by the California Department of Water Resources.

Olivenhain Municipal Water District Logo landscape design workshops

Learn How to Transform Your Landscape and Increase Water Efficiency at a Free Workshop

Encinitas, Calif.—Olivenhain Municipal Water District and San Dieguito Water District have partnered to offer a free WaterSmart Landscape Design Workshop. The event will be held Tuesday, February 19, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Encinitas Community Center, located at 1140 Oakcrest Park Drive in Encinitas.

Homeowners learn through the Water Authority's Landscape Transformation program that sustainable landscaping can be as lush as a lawn. Photo Water Authority turf

Tearing Out the Turf: 1 Million Square Feet Targeted for Removal

San Diego County residents have targeted more than 1 million square feet of turf grass for replacement with WaterSmart landscaping through free landscape makeover classes sponsored by the San Diego County Water Authority over the past five years.

While not all the targeted turf has actually been removed, post-class surveys show that many participants end up taking out more turf than they initially planned after seeing the benefits of their work, said Joni German, who coordinates the Water Authority’s award-winning WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series.

“Because we give people the skills and the confidence to do this, they often go on to convert turf in another part of their yard,” she said.

Water savings potential tops 36 million gallons a year

The Water Authority's Landscape Transformation Program teaches homeowners the proper methods for removing turf. Photo: Water Authority

The Water Authority’s WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series teaches homeowners the proper methods for removing turf. Photo: Water Authority

In the past five years, 947 people have completed the WaterSmart class series, which includes identifying turf areas for replacement with low-water use landscaping. Participants work one-on-one with local landscape architects to complete design and irrigation plans.

The Water Authority then compares estimated total water use for each homeowner before attending the four-class series, and after implementing a sustainable landscaping plan. In total, participants have identified more than 1 million square feet for conversion.

“We have documented about a 33 percent water savings in those plans,” said German. “The total water savings realized from removing 1 million square feet of turf is equal to 36.5 million gallons per year, or 112 acre-feet annually.”

One acre-foot is approximately 326,000 gallons, roughly enough to serve 2.5 typical Southern California families of four for a year.

Education helps homeowners embrace change

Example of a Landscape Transformation Program participant's yard prior to its sustainable makeover. Photo: Water Authority

Example of a WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series participant’s yard prior to its sustainable makeover. Photo: Water Authority

The National Resources Defense Council said California homeowners are leading the transition away from lawns, which is expected to continue for more than a decade nationwide. And there is a long way to go: Lawns currently cover up to 50 million acres of land in the United States, consuming three trillion gallons of water each year, according to NRDC.

German said WaterSmart landscape makeover courses help homeowners change their thinking, and embrace the sustainable landscaping approach.

The same residence after its makeover to a sustainable landscape design. Photo: Water Authority

“Homeowners don’t know where to start,” said German. “They think they have to create a rocks and cactus landscape. Our program reflects a WaterSmart landscape for the San Diego lifestyle.

“In the course, we explain that we live in one of the most desirable climates on earth. People come and vacation here for our climate. We deserve beautiful, lush, colorful, thriving landscapes – and we can have them. They can be water-efficient, too,” said German.

German said the combination of course lectures, hands-on assignments, and support from landscaping professionals makes the classes highly practical. “We get participants to think about their lifestyle and take them down the path that gives them the skills and knowledge to actually implement their own landscape plan.”

Each class series is limited to 25 participants. Experts visit each homeowner’s proposed project area prior to the first class. They take measurements, locate irrigation heads, and produce a CAD drawing for homeowners to use in the class.

“With the help of local landscape professionals, homeowners create planting plans and irrigation plans specific to their project areas. They are either ready to implement the plans themselves, or work with a contractor to tell them what they want done,” said German.

Applications now open for 2019 courses

The Oberkamp home before its landscaping makeover. Photo: Water Authority

The Oberkamp home before its landscaping makeover. Photo: Water Authority

The Water Authority has scheduled a full calendar of WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Classes for 2019, with the first series starting in February in Fallbrook. Limited enrollment ensures every participant receives hands-on support. Homeowners who want to attend a course in 2019 should complete an online application and get on the waiting list. Apply at

The Oberkamp home after its landscaping makeover. Photo: Water Authority

The California Department of Water Resources funds the class series because it generates water savings. It also generates a lot of enthusiasm, according to participant reviews.  “Could not believe the amount of information and guidance. Worth every minute and highly recommended!” said one participant.

“Wonderful class!” said another. “The instructors, the workbook and resources are beyond belief. I still have a lot to learn, but I will definitely be implementing everything.”





The winning WaterSmart landscaping project created by Bill and Rachel Williams. Photo: Vista Irrigation District

Vista Irrigation District Announces WaterSmart Landscape Contest Winner

Vista, Calif. – The Vista Irrigation District board of directors recognized one of its customers for their entry in the district’s WaterSmart Landscape Contest.

The contest recognizes outstanding water-wise residential landscapes based on the criteria of overall attractiveness, appropriate plant selection, design, appropriate maintenance, and efficient methods of irrigation.

Bill and Rachel Williams received the “Best in District” award. During the height of the drought, the
Williamses decided to replaced their water-intensive front and back lawn with a water-efficient landscape. After
hiring professionals to remove over 2,500 square feet of grass and install drip irrigation, the Williamses designed
the layout and chose the water-wise plants themselves. By adding fun elements, such a horseshoe pit and outdoor
seating area surrounding a fire pit, the Williamses transformed unused space into a backyard with utility.

The Williams’ backyard prior to their WaterSmart landscaping project. Photo: Vista Irrigation District

The result was an eye-catching design incorporating decomposed granite, cactus and splashes of vibrant color from the aloe
and agave families, including Coral Aloe as well as Foxtail and Century Agaves; plant selection also included
Aeonium, Rosemary, Senecio and Firestick.

WaterSmart project creates new backyard haven for homeowners

The Williamses “couldn’t be happier with the results”, and their WaterSmart project turned their water
thirsty lawn into a low maintenance, low cost and water efficient haven where they can relax and enjoy a game of

Another view of the new WaterSmart landscaping installed by the Williams family of Vista. Photo: Vista Irrigation District

With a majority of residential water use in San Diego County attributed to watering landscapes, regional
water efficiency efforts focus on outdoor water use. By showcasing their beautiful landscape in the WaterSmart
Landscape Contest, these district customers provide other homeowners with ideas and incentives to reduce their
own outdoor water use by installing attractive and efficient water-wise landscaping.

“Replacing your lawn with a WaterSmart landscape is a beautiful way to save water and money at the same
time,” said Brent Reyes, water conservation specialist for the district.

Vista Irrigation District part of effort to showcase residential water-wise landscapes

The district joined eleven other local agencies that held landscape contests this year, providing an
opportunity to showcase residential water-wise landscapes throughout the region. Participating agencies (besides
Vista Irrigation District) include Helix Water District, Olivenhain Municipal Water District, Otay Water District,
Padre Dam Municipal Water District, San Dieguito Water District, Sweetwater Authority, Vallecitos Water District,
California American Water, and the cities of Escondido, Oceanside and San Diego.

For more information about the contest and to see more examples of WaterSmart landscaping, visit Visit the district’s web site ( or call (760) 597-3107 to find out
more ways to save water.

The Vista Irrigation District is a public agency governed by an elected five-member board. The district
provides water service to more than 133,000 people in the city of Vista, and portions of San Marcos, Escondido,
Oceanside, and unincorporated areas of San Diego County.