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Helix Water District Demonstration Garden Wins Orchid Award

Helix Water District received an Orchid Award for Landscape Architecture from the San Diego Architectural Foundation at its 2023 annual Orchids and Onions architecture and design awards gala on October 5. The Orchid Award went to the district for its WaterSmart Demonstration Garden.

Vallecitos Videos Win National EPA WaterSense Award

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency honored the Vallecitos Water District with a WaterSense Partner of the Year Award for its video series promoting WaterSense and water efficiency in 2022. Vallecitos was one of nine Partner of the Year Award winners across the U.S.

WaterSense is a voluntary partnership program sponsored by the EPA. It identifies and labels water-efficient products, programs, and homes to help consumers learn ways to save water. More than 2,100 manufacturers, builders, retailers, utilities, government, and nonprofit organizations partner with WaterSense to promote water-efficient products, homes, and programs.

Vallecitos produced twelve videos released monthly in 2022, based on the EPA’s monthly feature topics. Each video focused on educating consumers about creating a WaterSense home. Among the topics covered by the 12 videos in the series are bathroom water consumption, efficient energy use, and one of the favorites, the “Shower With Power” video released in September 2022.

The video series produced by the Vallecitos Water District public affairs team was distributed by the U.S. EPA WaterSense program to help educate the public about water conservation nationwide. The videos can be downloaded for free on the EPA WaterSense partner platform.

Vallecitos began using video in 2019 to document the district’s workforce and infrastructure improvements on its social media platforms and has also engaged the public with discussions of critically important water management issues. It has won multiple awards for its work.

“We rely on video as a powerful communication tool at the Vallecitos Water District,” said Chris Robbins, Vallecitos Water District Public Information/Conservation Supervisor. “It’s how people like to consume information today,”  “We invest a great deal of effort to make sure each video is an effective resource. This award from the EPA affirms we’re taking the right approach.”

City of Oceanside Awarded $201,000 for Water Recycling and Desalination Planning Project

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation awarded the City of Oceanside $201,000 for the City’s Water Recycling and Desalination Planning Project. The City received the award after applying for WaterSMART funding to investigate expanding water reuse and increasing water recharge.

WaterSmart Moves Pay Off for Fallbrook Avocado Farm

Josh Kane didn’t know a lot about avocado farming 10 years ago, but he does now.

In 2001, Kane’s mother bought a 60-acre avocado farm, the Rice Canyon Ranch, in Fallbrook, thinking it would be a good investment. But, some not-so-good advice, and the 2014 drought, had the business in a nosedive. Rice Canyon took a long-term investment perspective and invested in innovative measures, including tree stumping and grafting. Those strategies, along with smart irrigation, helped turn the farm around.

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WaterSmart Moves Pay Off for Fallbrook Avocado Farm

Josh Kane didn’t know a lot about avocado farming 10 years ago, but he does now.

In 2001, Kane’s mother bought a 60-acre avocado farm, the Rice Canyon Ranch, in Fallbrook, thinking it would be a good investment. But, some not-so-good advice, and the 2014 drought, had the business in a nosedive.

So, Kane quit his job in commercial real estate and stepped in to help his mom turn the farm around, or “they would have lost the investment,” said Kane.

During that time, the Fallbrook area had been a hub for agriculture, specifically avocados. But many farms ceased operating due to a complex suite of factors that include increasing water and labor costs, competition from imports, and climate volatility.

Rice Canyon took a long-term investment perspective and invested in innovative measures, including tree stumping and grafting. Those strategies, along with smart irrigation, helped turn the farm around. But challenges remain.

Award-winning water-use efficiency

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California Water Savings Incentive Program, or WSIP, helped Kane to increase water-use efficiency at the farm. Rice Canyon Ranch and Kane were recognized with an award. He was one of six honorees selected based on their remarkable water-saving projects and facility upgrades funded by the WSIP.

Each unique project was recognized in a May 2023 ceremony for its technological innovations, environmental stewardship and water sustainability.

Metropolitan’s One Water Awards ceremony at the California Endowment in Los Angeles honored organizations that used funding from the WSIP to make major improvements to their water management operations and equipment, such as installing smart irrigation technology, water recirculation systems and soil moisture sensors.

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The Rice Canyon Ranch avocado farm. Photo: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

Long-term sustainable change

“The transformation of daily operations for these organizations translates into long-term, sustainable change for entire communities,” said Metropolitan General Manager Adel Hagekhalil. “The ceremony demonstrated that when everyone does what they can to use less water, we produce real water savings that benefits millions.”

Named for Metropolitan’s approach to water management that values and acknowledges that all water resources are connected, the One Water Awards program amplifies the success of participants in its WSIP. The program provides funding to commercial, industrial, institutional and agricultural customers that make water efficiency upgrades to their facilities but may not qualify for Metropolitan’s standard commercial rebate programs. It pays up to $0.60 per 1,000 gallons of water saved annually through customized projects that are developed by each organization to fit its needs.

“Outside of the box” strategies for avocado farm

The WSIP program and incentives were critical to implementing Rice Canyon’s strategies and have helped significantly reduce costs.

Rice Canyon replaced existing, or old trees, with “high-density planting.” How did removing old trees and high-density planting save water and money?

Kane says Haas avocado trees reach up to “40 feet and out 50 feet, it’s a massive tree and older trees would climb higher and higher in the old way of growing.”

Instead of planting trees like the typical spacing for avocado farms in the past, the new trees were planted on 10 feet by 10 feet spacing. Kane says that change to smaller spacing allowed reduced water usage, reduced loss due to deep percolation, inhibited weed growth, and excessive evaporation loss through overgrown canopies. Plant “material changes” meant using mulch to save water.

“Avocado roots are only about six inches deep, so they require a lot of water,” Kane explained. “But adding a layer of mulch keeps the roots wet, reducing irrigation and saving water.”

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The 60-acre Rice Canyon Ranch avocado farm is supplied with water from the San Diego County Water Authority and the Rainbow Municipal Water District, one of the Water Authority’s 24 member agencies. Photo: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

Tree spacing to save water

“With the fruits on the canopy – and all the water needed to pull the water up to the canopy – a 9-foot-tall tree, cutting and pruning it back, is more efficient with the sun, space and way more efficient with the water,” said Kane.

Kane says before the changes in tree spacing, use of mulch, and smart irrigation, the water costs for the avocado farm were about $250,000 a year.

“Our water costs are about $62,000 a year now, a cut of roughly 75-percent, which is huge,” Kane said.

He said the farm received $238,000 from the WSIP program for the water-efficiency project and the operation now saves about 34-38 million gallons of water a year. Kane says the 10-year projected water savings is 350 million gallons.

Even with the grant, and all the changes to the farm – including smart irrigation techniques, Kane says competition from outside the U.S. is a big factor in making a profit.

“We’re giving it a go and trying, but the price per pound – with competition from a lot of overseas fruit, from Mexico, Argentina, Peru – is a key factor for us,” said Kane.

WaterSmart advice for growers

“Farming is not easy by any means,” said Kane. “The price we get for our avocados is about the same per pound today as we got 10 years ago. There are no guarantees, but the way we had to make it work was to reduce water expenses as much as we could.”

Kane has this advice to remain profitable for other growers of avocados or similar crops for smart irrigation.

“You have to think outside the box to make it, decrease expenses and increase profits – never stop learning,” said Kane. “Any old time farmer growing avocados the same way as 40 years ago, must change and adapt with the times.”

He says despite the water cost savings, use of water sensors and other changes, growing avocados for Rice Canyon is a tough business.

“It is a labor of love, not a business of income, but the water grant gets us closer to making it work,” said Kane.

(Editor’s Note: The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is a water wholesaler. Since 1990, Metropolitan has invested nearly $1 billion in conservation programs, saving about 3.5 million acre-feet of water. Rice Canyon Ranch is supplied with water from the San Diego County Water Authority and the Rainbow Municipal Water District, one of the Water Authority’s 24 member agencies.)

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Free WaterSmart Classes Help Residents Transform Landscapes

The San Diego County Water Authority offers free WaterSmart classes, with both virtual and in-person options, taught by local landscape design professionals. Classes help participants understand landscape design and maintenance, soil identification and health, turf types and removal tips, plant selection, rainwater catchment, irrigation retrofits and project installation, whether completed as a DIY project or with contractor assistance.

Participants get the knowledge and skills they need to transform their yards into spaces that are water-efficient, sustainable, and beautiful year-round.  The workshops are typically offered in spring and in fall clusters, with fall classes scheduled for September through November.

Five topics are available to choose from, including:

  • Plan Ahead: Understanding Soil and Site Assessments
  • Design: Shape Your Space
  • Plants: Inspiring Choices for our Region
  • Water & Irrigation: Utilizing a Precious Resource
  • Installation and Maintenance: Protecting Your Investment

Local professionals can help you create a customized plan

Participants who attend all five workshops and meet other program criteria can sign up to receive an in-home visit by a landscape professional who will help them create customized landscape transformation plans, through the Designer at Your Door service. For more information, visit sdcwa.org/your-water/conservation/classes.

“The workshops are designed to help residents create and maintain their own beautiful and water-efficient outdoor spaces,” said Debby Dunn, a water resources specialist for the Water Authority. “Most of our residential water use is outdoors in our landscapes. This is why learning how to create water-efficient spaces is a great way for San Diegans to continue doing their part to use water efficiently.”

Short videos offer an educational and entertaining experience

For people who prefer to learn at their own pace, the Water Authority offers short, entertaining and educational on-demand videos, with topics that mirror the workshops. To watch the videos go to sdcwa.org/your-water/conservation/classes and click on the videos link.

Low-water plants, improved irrigation technologies, and WaterSmart classes not only save water, but also reduce energy use, protect our natural resources, and create beautiful outdoor living spaces.

WaterSmart classes-landscapes-landscape-water conservation

Free WaterSmart Classes Help Residents Transform Landscapes

The San Diego County Water Authority offers free WaterSmart classes, with both virtual and in-person options, taught by local landscape design professionals. Classes help participants understand landscape design and maintenance, soil identification and health, turf types and removal tips, plant selection, rainwater catchment, irrigation retrofits and project installation, whether completed as a DIY project or with contractor assistance.

Participants get the knowledge and skills they need to transform their yards into spaces that are water-efficient, sustainable, and beautiful year-round.  The workshops are typically offered in spring and in fall clusters, with fall classes scheduled for September through November.

Five topics are available to choose from, including:

  • Plan Ahead: Understanding Soil and Site Assessments
  • Design: Shape Your Space
  • Plants: Inspiring Choices for our Region
  • Water & Irrigation: Utilizing a Precious Resource
  • Installation and Maintenance: Protecting Your Investment
Plants in beautiful colors that attract pollinators highlight the plant palette. Photo: San Dieguito Water District

Residents will learn how to plan and design a landscape that is not only water-efficient, but also looks vibrant and attracts pollinators. Photo: San Dieguito Water District

Local professionals can help you create a customized plan

Participants who attend all five workshops and meet other program criteria can sign up to receive an in-home visit by a landscape professional who will help them create customized landscape transformation plans, through the Designer at Your Door service. For more information, visit sdcwa.org/your-water/conservation/classes.

“The workshops are designed to help residents create and maintain their own beautiful and water-efficient outdoor spaces,” said Debby Dunn, a water resources specialist for the Water Authority. “Most of our residential water use is outdoors in our landscapes. This is why learning how to create water-efficient spaces is a great way for San Diegans to continue doing their part to use water efficiently.”

Short videos offer an educational and entertaining experience

For people who prefer to learn at their own pace, the Water Authority offers short, entertaining and educational on-demand videos, with topics that mirror the workshops. To watch the videos go to sdcwa.org/your-water/conservation/classes and click on the videos link.

Low-water plants, improved irrigation technologies, and WaterSmart classes not only save water, but also reduce energy use, protect our natural resources, and create beautiful outdoor living spaces.

(Editor’s note: The “Thanks for Planting Me!” summer campaign offers gratitude to the hundreds of thousands of San Diegans who have transformed their landscapes using low-water and native plants as part of a larger effort to use water more efficiently.)

Alliance for Water Efficiency-Award-AWE-Water Authority

Water Authority Earns National Conservation Innovation Award

The San Diego County Water Authority was recognized with a national award from the Alliance for Water Efficiency for programs that help county residents and businesses conserve water. The Water Authority earned the 2023 Utility Innovation Award for developing and deploying of one of the first and most comprehensive multi-benefit water-use efficiency incentive programs in the nation, in partnership with the County of San Diego.

The partnership combines the strength of the region’s wholesale water supplier with the county’s stormwater department, which together have co-funded incentive and educational programs that produce both water supply and water quality benefits.

Water Authority recognized with national award for regional partnership

The partnership also includes a technical assistance program, the Landscape Optimization Service, which helps large landscape owners replace turf grass with sustainable landscaping. In addition, the Water Authority launched the “Multi-Benefit Stacked Incentives Learning Network” to bring together its 24 member agencies and 21 stormwater agencies to foster investments with multiple benefits.

The Alliance for Water Efficiency is a national nonprofit organization headquartered in Chicago dedicated to the efficient and sustainable use of water. The organization advocates for water-efficient products and programs and provides information and assistance on water conservation efforts.

Innovative programs

“The Alliance for Water Efficiency was thrilled to present the 2023 Utility Innovation Award to the San Diego County Water Authority,” said AWE President and CEO Ron Burke. “The Water Authority … has been a longtime, trusted partner in this work. Our staff was excited to present this award in recognition of their innovative programs to provide services to their customers that conserve water and advance water efficiency throughout San Diego County.”

In addition to its partnership with the county, the Water Authority regularly works with other agencies to promote water efficiency as a way of life. Since 2021, the Water Authority has partnered with SDG&E to install water-efficient toilets along with energy saving devices for income qualified residents.

“Helping water users improve efficiency reduces the need for imported supplies as we embrace sustainable practices,” said Mel Katz, chair of the Water Authority’s Board. “This award highlights successful efforts by the Water Authority and its partners to ensure San Diego County can sustain our safe and reliable water resources for the long-term.”

Earlier this year, the Water Authority secured $3 million from DWR’s Urban Community Drought Relief Grant and $250,000 from the Proposition 1, Round 2 IRWM Grant to expand the program, bolstering the agency’s long-running efforts to enhance water affordability. The program is also funded through a partnership between the Water Authority and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

(Editor’s Note: For rebates, classes, and water-saving tips go to: sdcwa.org/your-water/conservation/.)

Water Authority Ads Thank San Diego for Sustainable Planting

The San Diego County Water Authority is spending $100,000 from a state grant for a summer public outreach and educational advertising campaign to promote wider adoption of sustainable landscapes that are more suitable for the region’s Mediterranean climate.

A SDCWA statement said its “Thanks for Planting Me!” campaign offers gratitude to the hundreds of thousands of San Diegans who are using water efficiently, along with encouragement to expand regenerative, low-water landscapes.

A drought tolerant design inspired by mountain views is the 2023 winner of the San Dieguito Water District Landscape Makeover Contest. Photo: San Dieguito Water District

Mountains Inspire Winners of San Dieguito Water District 2023 Landscape Contest

Large trees were the driving force that led Encinitas homeowners to remove grass and create a vibrant, low-water use landscape. The waterwise transformation won the San Dieguito Water District 2023 Landscape Makeover Contest.

Rick and Melanie Cullen had a yard with grass with large shade trees. But the roots of their three large Liquidambar trees were damaging the driveway and the grass, which motivated the couple to remake their landscape.

Overgrown landscape trees helped inspire Melanie Cullen to change her original landscaping to a waterwise design. Photo: San Dieguito Water District

Overgrown landscape trees helped inspire a change to a waterwise landscape design. Photo: San Dieguito Water District

“San Dieguito Water District is proud to recognize customers like the Cullens, who create beautiful and resilient landscapes while making efficient use of their water,” said Isam Hireish, general manager of San Dieguito Water District.

Mountain visits inspire landcape makeover

Melanie Cullen's new design incorporates a dry riverbed. Photo: San Dieguito Water District

The makeover design incorporates a dry riverbed. Photo: San Dieguito Water District

The Cullens wanted to plant a drought-tolerant, water-wise yard that would be easy to maintain, beautiful, and hold up to their frequent travel schedule.

“My inspiration was to create a water wise, drought-tolerant front yard that also provides us a beautiful yard as if we were in the mountains,” said Melanie Cullen. It started with taking existing small landscape rocks and repurposing them into a natural dry streambed feature.

Colorful plant palette pollinators love

Plants in beautiful colors that attract pollinators highlight the plant palette. Photo: San Dieguito Water District

Plants in beautiful colors that attract pollinators highlight the plant palette. Photo: San Dieguito Water District

Plants were selected that would thrive in the coastal San Diego County environment. The invasive Liquidambar trees were replaced by Blue Ice Cypress, Forest Pansy Red Bud, and dwarf Deodar Cedar trees. Colorful drought-tolerant flowering shrubs and perennials including Coastal Woolybush, salvias, echinaceas, Texas primrose, heronsbill, columbine, Grevillea ‘Mt. Tamboritha’ and ‘Sour Grapes’ Penstemon provide habitat for pollinators.

Fragrant ground cover

Grasses including Pennisetum ‘Fireworks’ and Acorus ‘Variegated Sweetflag’ add to the plant palette. Creeping Thyme and trailing Rosemary are used as colorful, fragrant ground cover.

A highlight: one dozen Azaleas create a woodland flower look. Cullen says they bloom when other plants aren’t flowering.

“One might think they are water hogs, but they get the same water as everything else and bloom quite a bit throughout the year,” said Cullen. “It was a matter of choosing the right type of Azalea (Red Bird and Alaska White).”

Drip irrigation system saves water 

Melanie Cullen installed a circular drip irrigation system. She only needs to water once every one to two weeks for 20 minutes now that the plants are established. Photo: San Dieguito Water District

A circular drip irrigation system requires watering plants only once every one-to-weeks for 20 minutes.  Photo: San Dieguito Water District

The Cullens used a drip irrigation system that encircles each plant individually to direct water to the specific plant. They already had a smart irrigation controller which is still in use. A remote moisture sensor was added allowing the homeowners to monitor the ground moisture at the plants and then adjust watering for the yard.

Three to four inches of bark mulch helps retain irrigation, which has worked “extremely well.”

Tapping rain

Melanie Cullen says the irrigation was turned off completely from January through May due to generous rainfall. “Presently, we only need to water once every one to two weeks for 20 minutes,” she said.

“I join our Board of Directors in recognizing the leadership of the Cullens and commend them for taking proactive steps to improve our community’s resilience to a changing climate,” said Isam Hireish, General Manager of San Dieguito Water District. “I encourage all customers to utilize water more efficiently and take advantage of the various water-saving incentives we offer.”

In the months since the landscape makeover, the Cullens report all their original goals were met. “We love sitting in our front now and watching the many hummingbirds that also love our yard,” said Melanie Cullen.

For rebates, classes, and water-saving tips: sdcwa.org/your-water/conservation/.

(Editor’s note: The San Dieguito Water District is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)