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Sometimes improving your water efficiency is as simple as changing a few old habits. Photo: Karolina Grabowska/Pixabay

Indoor Water Efficiency at No Cost

There are many ways to use water more efficiently indoors, and a lot of these are completely free! You don’t have to go through the expense of replacing appliances or installing new ones to improve indoor water efficiency. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing a few old water usage habits.

Here are some easy ways to reduce water usage inside your home:

  • Use a bowl of water to help thaw frozen food. Did you know that running the tap to thaw frozen meats and vegetables could use up to 2.5 gallons per minute? Using a bowl of room temperature water instead can greatly improve your water efficiency.
  • Scrape dirty dishes first before rinsing them. Not only will this save you time at the sink, but it will also conserve up to 2.5 gallons of water per minute.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables in a bowl of water instead of running water.
  • Run the dishwasher only when it’s full. Too often people are tempted to run the dishwasher as soon as the sink is empty, but standard dishwashers can use 2-4.5 gallons of water per load.
  • Turn off the water when brushing your teeth. This is possibly the easiest habit to change when it comes to water efficiency, and most people are already doing it.
  • Shorten showers to five minutes or less. Setting a timer on your watch or phone can help with this.
  • Use a bucket to collect water in the shower while you’re waiting for it to warm up. Then use this water to water your plants. Sometimes it can take a while for the shower to get to the right temperature before you step in. This is a perfect time to collect some clean water that can be reused around the house.
  • Wash only full loads of clothing – standard clothes washing machines can use a whopping 15-50 gallons per load. By running the washing machine only when it’s full, you can greatly improve your water efficiency.

Learn more about how to use water more efficiently indoors and outdoors this summer.

Check out WaterSmartSD.org for more resources

WaterSmartSD.org also has information about incentives for indoor and outdoor water conservation, as well as opportunities to sign up for FREE WaterSmart checkups. If you’re looking to revamp your landscaping this year, take a look at the WaterSmart landscape makeover classes for some easy ways to get started.

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

Planting succulents that are high in water or salt content, such as aloe, can help with fire prevention in your sustainable landscape. Photo: Rudy and Peter Skitterians/Pixabay

Fire Prevention Tips for Landscapes

Fire is a real and constant threat in Southern California. This is especially true in wildland interface areas. For effective fire prevention, it is important to select plants, choose landscape designs and perform consistent maintenance in accordance with fire safety guidelines.

Plan for fire safety

Landscapes should resist ignition and provide 35 ft. of actively maintained defensible space around structures and access zones. This maximizes fire prevention and also allows for access by fire crews, if necessary.

Native plants adapted for fire prevention

Many of San Diego County’s native plant communities, like chaparral, are able to survive and recover from infrequent fire. Some plants use fire to signal available space to grow and thus start the germination process. However, when fires are too frequent, event the most well-adapted plants will have trouble surviving.

Invasive species have made fires more frequent. In addition, they allow fires to burn longer and with hotter intensity. Fire prevention in landscaping means it is even more important to avoid invasive plants in fire-prone zones.

Use plants that resist ignition

Select the types of native plants that will be less likely to ignite and produce airborne plant embers. Such plants will include those with a high salt and/or water and low volatile oil content in their leaves. Succulents are a great example of these types of plants. Agaves, aloes, crassulas and other succulents store extra water in their fleshy leaves.

For fire prevention, avoid messy, oily trees and shrubs like eucalyptus, since they will ignite quickly and burn hot and long. These plants will also release embers into the air and further spread the fire.

To prevent fires, maintenance is key. Preventive maintenance includes regularly removing dry grass, thatch, brush, weeds, litter, waste and dead and dying vegetation. Dead leaves and branches are particularly flammable, especially on evergreen shrubs or vines. Pruning trees and thinning shrubs and perennials regularly will also help prevent fires.

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

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 watersmartcheckup.org

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 WaterSmartSD.org

 

How to Compost the Right Way

You can make composting on-site a goal for your sustainable landscape maintenance to reduce waste and help the soil thrive. You’ll know when the compost is ready to use when it has an earthy smell, has cooled off, and doesn’t reheat when stirred. Next, look for a uniformly dark brown or even black color. You shouldn’t be able to identify any of the original particles.

Spread compost directly on the soil surface to use it as mulch. That can prevent erosion and help plants and soil filter pollution, such as hydrocarbons and metals from road surfaces. Most greenwaste-based composts can be applied to a depth of three inches. Use up to two inches of bio-solids.

If you don’t produce your own compost on site, get it from a reputable source that guarantees high quality. Commercially produced quality can vary significantly due to the diverse nature of feedstock, processes, and maturation standards.

Use compost to make healthier soil

For native plants in your sustainable landscaping, use roughly 15 percent compost by volume to repair disturbed or damaged soils.

Clay-based soil amended with compost leads to more productive and healthy plant growth at a lower cost than amending the same soil with the necessary 45 percent sand. Therefore, you can mix poor soils that are compacted, lifeless, or subsoils with about three to six cubic yards of high quality compost per 1,000 square feet to improve the soil structure.

If your compost is based on bio-solids, it can be high in ammonium nitrogen. Use this type of compost sparingly.  When using bio-solids, be sure you know exactly where they came from.

Read more at Gardening Know How: Composting With Biosolids: What Are Biosolids And What Are They Used For https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/composting/ingredients/composting-with-biosolids.htm

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

Trees are the most valuable players in your landscape design, and you can keep them healthy by using proper pruning techniques. Photo: Benjamin Balazs/Pixabay

Take Good Care of Your Landscaping Trees

Trees are the most valuable players in your landscape design. They benefit both the environment and the communities in which they are planted. They save energy and clean the air we breathe. They help counteract the urban heat island effect and combat climate change. Trees provide protection from the elements, and even support healing. Invest in tree maintenance to promote their ongoing health.

When to prune your trees

First, for corrective or preventive measures. Second, to remove dead, crowded, or poorly angled branches or to reduce potential hazards. Third, to increase light and air penetration for healthy growth.

Routine thinning does not always improve the health of a tree. Removing large amounts of foliage all at once can reduce growth and stored energy reserves, resulting in stressed trees whose grow stalls.

Pruning should be performed in the best season for the tree to avoid potential disease, and avoid pruning just after the spring growth flush.

Use proper technique to promote healthy trees

There should be a purpose for each cut, as each cut into a tree has the potential to change the growth of the tree for many years to come.

Proper tree pruning technique is essential. Improper or careless pruning can cause damage that extends over the life of the tree. It is important to know where and how to make cuts before beginning the process.

Trees don’t “heal” the same way people do when we sustain a cut or a wound. When a tree is wounded, it compartmentalizes the wound to protect itself. A small cut does less damage than a large cut. Waiting to prune a tree until it is mature can create the need for large cuts that cannot be easily compartmentalized. This can threaten the life of the entire tree. Ongoing and regular maintenance is a must.

Ask for professional assistance

Call on a certified arborist to maintain your trees in optimal health. Arborists are specialists trained in the art and science of planting, caring for, and maintaining individual trees. They can identify and treat diseases before they spread to other trees. Find qualified professionals at the International Society of Arboriculture and the American Society of Consulting Arborists.


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

Professionals trained in different aspects of sustainable landscaping can help you ensure the success of your project. Photo: Water Authority

Getting Help From Landscaping Professionals

The perfect time to plan your new beautiful, livable and WaterSmart landscape is in summer because fall is the ideal time to plant a garden in this Mediterranean climate we all enjoy. The WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series and related educational programs are a great way to gather the skills needed to make a lawn transformation happen. The four class series, which includes one-on-one design help from local design professionals, is currently enrolling for July locations in Central San Diego and Escondido.

Register for Free WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Classes:

Escondido – Saturday mornings July 13, 20, 27 & August 3

San Diego (Mission Hills) – Wednesday evenings July 10, 17, 24 & 31

Many homeowners are eager to create a beautiful new sustainable landscape on their own, with guidance from organizations like the San Diego County Water Authority. But sometimes it’s a smart idea to call on professionals trained in different aspects of the watershed approach to landscaping. With a little help, you can ensure the success of your project.

Assessment organizations including site assessment and testing, various measuring services, surveyors, soil testing services and even Google Maps are available. Property measuring and survey companies can develop more detailed site plans with elevations, siting of trees and landscape amenities.

Planning and design professionals can help you develop a working plan and budget for your landscaping. The plan should include drawings, resource lists, and an outline of the techniques needed to implement the plan. Landscape designers and architects can help you create a conceptual design. Working with a licensed professional is recommended if you have hillsides and slopes, or complicated structures.

Landscape installation and construction professionals are licensed contractors who specialize in building landscape, and can work on all aspects of a sustainable landscape plan. You may be able to install your own garden, but if you get stuck you can call upon the expertise of an experienced pro who carries all the necessary insurance and is knowledgeable about permitting requirements.

Rainwater catchment specialists include people certified by the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA) to design and install rainwater capture systems. These pros can bring specialized expertise to your project, particularly if it involves installation of an active capture system such as a cistern. The water savings you achieve can offer you a solid return on investment.

Irrigation system consultants include people with certification by an EPA WaterSense ® organization to provide irrigation system auditing, design, and maintenance. They can help you improve the efficiency of your irrigation system. The Irrigation Association, California Landscape Contractors Association Water Managers, Qualified Water Efficient Landscapers, and G3 Watershed Wise Landscape Professionals all provide searchable lists of qualified people.

Plant selection specialists include your local retail nursery and garden center, native plant societies, Master Gardeners, and professional gardeners. Learn from them, and do your homework to select plants that are both climate appropriate and locally native to your area, and you will be rewarded with a better understanding and appreciation of your garden as it evolves over the years.

Maintenance of sustainable landscapes requires an understanding of the watershed approach to landscaping and water management. Even if you eliminate the need to mow a lawn, there remains the need for fine pruning, irrigation tune-ups, cleaning and checking water retention devices, and soil building. Maintenance people must have the know-how to implement mulching, basic irrigation adjustments, and care of native plants.

Certified arborists are specialists trained in the art and science of planting, caring for, and maintaining individual trees. Find qualified professionals at the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA).

Take advantage of the public education provided by your local water district, various nonprofit organizations, and the San Diego County Water Authority. Classes are often free of charge. For more information, visit WaterSmartSD.org.


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

San Marcos resident Jeff Moore's landscape makeover won recognition in the 2018 Landscape Makeover Contest. Photo: Water Authority

WaterSmart Landscape Contest Seeks Inspiring Entries

The 2019 WaterSmart Landscape Contest invites homeowners across San Diego County to share their landscaping makeovers to inspire and encourage more people to consider their own makeovers by showcasing the beauty and variety of water-efficient landscapes.

The winning landscape from each of the participating water agencies will receive a prize valued at $250 and be recognized in print and online publications. The deadline to apply is April 26. Enter the contest here: www.landscapecontest.com

Customers of these local water agencies are eligible: the City of Escondido, Helix Water District, the City of Oceanside, Olivenhain Water District, Otay Water District, Padre Dam Municipal Water District, Rincon del Diablo Water District, City of San Diego, San Dieguito Water District, Sweetwater Authority, Vallecitos Water District, Vista Irrigation District and California American Water.

Jeff Moore stands in his San Marcos front yard featuring his award-winning waterwise landscaping work. Photo: Water Authority

Contest rules vary with each agency, but all entries will be judged on the same criteria. Judges are looking for overall attractiveness of the landscaping including its curb appeal and whether the plants are well maintained; a design with adequate plant coverage and permeable soil able to thrive with less water; efficient methods of irrigation; and climate-appropriate plant selection with minimal turf.

Water-efficient landscaping is beautiful

Raised planter beds and a living wall are features in this award-winning Olivenhain area landscaping project. Photo: Courtesy OMWD

San Diego County residents have embraced the new WaterSmart approach to their landscaping, installing water-efficient gardens and removing thirsty turf in increasing numbers.

One of those swapping turf for sustainable landscaping is San Marcos homeowner Rhonda Holmes. She won the 2018 Vallecitos Water District Landscape District contest. Holmes transformed the landscape at her home shortly after buying it. Her outdoor remodel included replacing the front and backyard turf areas with water-efficient plants.

She designed a garden that was smart on water while being beautiful at the same time.

“It’s really easy to do,” Holmes said. “I’d love to see more people try to do their part.”

The contest aims to inspire residents to consider a landscape makeover by showcasing the beauty and variety of water-efficient landscapes.

Video of 2018 Vallecitos Water District winners

Many previous winners have taken advantage of the San Diego County Water Authority’s free WaterSmart landscape makeover classes to help them successfully create and complete their projects. More than one million square feet of turf has been targeted for removal by course participants, generating a water savings potential of 36 million gallons annually.

Interested residents can learn about the next series of Landscaping Makeover classes and register on the WaterSmartSD website.

In addition to the benefits of reducing water consumption, water-efficient landscaping can improve a home’s curb-appeal and value, and reduce the need for costly, time-consuming maintenance. Many native plant selections also have fire-resistant qualities and provide habitat for local wildlife.

Outdoor watering accounts for roughly half of statewide urban use, and more in inland areas, according to a Public Policy Institute of California report. Savings can come from installing more efficient irrigation systems and replacing thirsty lawns with less thirsty plants.