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KPBS Midday Edition

San Diegans Offered Ways To Save Water By Remaking Their Yards

A San Diego County yard after a water-wise yard makeover.
San Diego County Water Authority
A San Diego County yard after a water-wise yard makeover.
San Diegans Offered Ways To Save Water By Remaking Their Yards
San Diego County Water Authority Offering Classes For Low-Water Yard Makeovers GUESTSCarlos Michelon, principal water resources specialist with the San Diego County Water Authority Nan Sterman, garden journalist and host of the KPBS show "A Growing Passion"

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. San Diego County officials are urging everyone who can to change landscaping to reduce water use. That is easier said than done. What plants to choose, what kind of water system will you need? San Diego County Water Authority is launching a series of three summer classes to help people make water wise yard makeovers. Earlier today I spoke with Carlos Michelon, Principal Water Resources Specialist with the County Water Authority, and Nan Sterman, gardened journalist and the host of the KPBS show ìA Growing Passion.î Here's that interview. [ AUDIO PLAYING ] MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Why should people be thinking about changing landscaping now? CARLOS MICHELON: It is an ideal time, I think everybody is aware of the drought conditions currently affecting California. For a long time, San Diegans have been conscious of how scarce water is in taking steps to conserve water. We're very grateful for the kids we have made in the recent years thanks to conservation, but this time to keep it up and do a little more in response to the current drought condition. For that reason, we have a lot of resources to simply dedicated to supporting people taking action to upgrade landscapes to water smart landscapes. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What kinds of experts are teaching the yard makeover classes that you will have this summer? CARLOS MICHELON: Principally, the instructors are faculty members from the local community colleges. Additionally, the program offers design coaching, so as a participant works on developing a customized action plan for their property, they get to interface with practicing design professionals who will review the plan and coach them on improvements to ensure that they are successful. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Nan Sterman, you have been talking for years about how to create water wise gardens, what are the first questions you always hear from people when they are embarking on this kind of endeavor? NAN STERMAN: The first question is, how do I get rid of my lawn? That is a most always the question. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are there follow-ups to that? Are the things that are common concerns beyond lawns? NAN STERMAN: A lot of people want to know if they can keep existing irrigation, how they can do it on a budget, how long it will take, what the landscape will look like, can they keep their favorite roses, these are the kinds of questions I get fairly regularly. What if I don't really needs a place to spend some time to hang out, what can I put into my dock has spaces well. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What do you answer to that, especially the dog question? NAN STERMAN: My answer is, dogs like to have a place to hang out, and we don't have to worry about that. They know how to root out a space that really fits them well. Unless your dog is a digger, go ahead and create the landscape that will fit your family's needs, and double fit in. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Give us an idea of the kind of changes people can make in the choices of plants that would make a big difference in water use. NAN STERMAN: It is huge, when we go to the nursery we have a wide range of plants we can choose from, the issue is not all of those plans come from climate that are similar to ours. Those plans may come from a private where it rains in the summer. Those plans will not be happy here, unless we water them. They need water when we don't get any rain. Those are plants that we want to stay away from and we want to look at plants that are from the parts of the world where the rainfall pattern is very similar to ours, which means that they get rain and fall and early spring and summer is dry. That is not Minnesota, that is not Michigan, and that is not Florida. But it is the Mediterranean off the coast of France, Italy, Spain, Morocco, and that is the southern tip of South Africa and parts of Australia, and actually the west coast of Chile, and our own native plants, that may sound limited, but the biodiversity in those regions and more and more plants from those parts of the world are making way into our nurseries. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Carlos, as a water resource manager, you already talked about the tremendous progress that San Diegans have made in cutting back on water consumption. In changing landscape, that is a really important next step to take, because doesn't landscape watering play a huge part in our overall water consumption? CARLOS MICHELON: It really does, the typical home, study shows that the outdoor landscaping averaging is close to 60%, averaged across the region. If we can make a significant reduction in the amount of water that is supplied outdoor for irrigation, overall it is going to have a huge impact. Now, the landscape retrofit can be a complex endeavor. Presently, our resources are dedicated to helping educate the public to empower them to take action to be successful. I think it is really important that people go through a process like what is offered in the classes, so that they have an actionable plan, whether the choose to do it themselves or hire a professional, to fine-tune it or install it for them, they will become informed consumers and know what they are and asking for. We're facilitating access to a lot of technical resources that help them make water smart choices. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As Nan just told us, one of the big issues in San Diego is still grass and lawns. Moving from a green lawn to something else is a really big change for most people. How can that be done more easily? What are people learning about in these classes about what to do with lawns? CARLOS MICHELON: I think Nan outlined a few common questions that come up when homeowners embark on a retrofit project, how to take out grass, there is actually a very detailed coverage of this topic come you have to identify what you're dealing with. Is it Bermuda turf, which is a warm season grass that is typically harder to remove than a warm season turf. Regardless of the type of turf, I think it is important to have an awareness. I would like people to imagine when they look at the green, lush lawn, that over the course of the year that is equivalent to looking at a swimming pool. That is the amount of water it takes to sustain that, so achieving a beautiful water smart retrofit, there also reduce the amount of water that will be applied. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Nan, people are really sort of afraid of taking that step of getting rid of the lawn, what will the front of my house look like? What do you tell them? NAN STERMAN: I tell them it is going to look beautiful. You're going from a flat green surface to huge amounts of texture, color, and variation. Most people are just afraid, they are not familiar enough with plants or how to take care of plants, they think it will be much harder. In reality, having a water smart landscaping is much easier to take care of because grass requires more attention than just about everything else. You have to mow it every week, fertilize it, water it regularly. With water smart that, water them occasionally once they are established, a couple leaves every once in a while, you can print it, but you do not have to. You can touch them once a month, once every quarter, that is it. It is the fear of the unknown that is the hardest thing to overcome when it comes to changing of the landscape to make it more water wise. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Isn't another aspect of this design, you see native the water gardens that are beautiful and others that are not? NAN STERMAN: You see that regardless of whether the garden is water wise or not. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You need a landscape designer, or is there some kind of formula that people can follow when they are thinking of changing out the garden? NAN STERMAN: There is no A than B and C. Every garden is custom. If any your garden is the same as the one across the street, your garden faces a different direction and the way that your garden is situated on the lot creates a different dimension for the space. Your space will be different from your neighbor's. Gardens are the most custom elements in most of our landscapes, we don't think of that, they are the most custom. Some people have the innate ability to do it themselves, just as some people are great interior designers. A lot of people don't really know what to do and where to start, and when you are one of those people it really helps to work with the designer. Invite somebody in, trust them and let them do what they do best. CARLOS MICHELON: This is a great question, what people embark on with these projects, the key question is what it will look like. You can achieve something beautiful, and one of the key starting point is to look toward water conservation gardens at Cuyamaca college, and the San Diego Botanica garden, as places you can actually go and experience the landscape in 3-D. Walk through it, smelled the aromas and be inspired. At both locations, we are offering classes, to purchase been to come through the workshop series at those locations they have the benefit of going outdoors and experiencing that, and becoming inspired. Being able to identify this, and that I want it in my design. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: To the idea of everyone having a custom custom garden specific to the kind of space and land that you have, you are encouraging people in yard makeovers to bring in pictures, to actually show the people teaching these classes the layout of the garden, where the sun where they get a lot of water, where they don't, to make that very specific, isn't that right? CARLOS MICHELON: That is absolutely right. Just to quickly outline an overview of the course, we have the acronym DIPM, design, it integrates state-of-the-art irrigation, P stands for climate appropriate plants, and M is the overall maintenance involved when you establish landscape. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So it takes it from the actual start to the finish to maintain it once you have it in. CARLOS MICHELON: That's right, at the San Diego County fair we have a top coming up where people get an overview of what it takes from start to finish to pull off a water smart upgrade. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is it expensive to change out gardens to make the more water wise? NAN STERMAN: It depends on what you consider to be expensive. I tell people when you be landscape, you have to anticipate that it will cost you on the magnitude that it would be to remodel. It is not inexpensive, because there is much more to it than just a plant. You can just replace the plants, those plans will not survive if you have not created infrastructure for them to survive. That means a hard look at your irrigation, these plants really need a different kind of irrigation, especially if we will save water. Your when people only be as water wise as your irrigation and water practices allow it to be. Yeah, you have to have a chunk of change because that's cost money, labor costs money, materials cost money. It is not inexpensive, is it outrageous? No, but you could make it outrageous, you don't have to. People say I want to know how much this will cost before I begin. Well, I don't know what you are planning to do. For us, we have to have a design and then we can figure out a ballpark budget. I need to know whether you have champagne taste or pure taste so I can give you an idea of what something might cost. It is not something to undertake without realizing there would be a cost. Can you face it when it comes to implementation? MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to get Carlos in on this, because he wants to say something about the expense. CARLOS MICHELON: I also wanted to offer, in addition to these classes, water utilities are also offering financial incentives, $3.50 per square foot available to help implement these programs. We are seeing on average, about 1000 ft.≤ of turf area that these participants are coming into the program wanting to replace. I think the book ends for a retro fit project, for a do-it-yourself you may be looking at forty-five dollars a square foot with a lot of elbow grease, and I think the sky is the limit, depending on how an Nan put it, in terms of the customers champagne taste, if you will. But ten dollars a square foot maybe a good place to start with the mainstream retrofit with $3.50 per square foot available as a subsidy. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I know that this yard makeover series of classes sort of kicks off, there's a preview session coming up this Sunday at the San Diego County fair, is that where people need to go to sign up for this? CARLOS MICHELON: Actually, I will direct people to our website, WatersmartSD.org. That is our portal to all of the water smart resources, so you should know that there is a growing backlog of interest in the community signing up for these programs, so it is important, that people are interested, they go to the website. There are some terms and conditions, we're screening a condition of eligibility that they be able to retrofit, that they are committed to making this change. We want to make sure that the limited resources are available to those ready to take action. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And where is this preview located in the San Diego County fair? CARLOS MICHELON: There are number of landscape exhibits. I believe it is called the Aqui Hall, and adjacent to it there is an adjacent stage, that is where the top will take place, in overview start to finish in what is involved in the water smart upgrade. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I have to end it there. Thank you both very much.

With California in an unprecedented drought, San Diego residents are being asked to limit outdoor watering this summer to three days a week.

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The San Diego County Water Authority wants only overnight irrigation, and officials are urging residents to change their landscaping to reduce water use. But that's easier said than done.

What plants do you choose? What kind of water system will you need? Will your property still look good without that old water-guzzling lawn?

To help residents answer those questions, the Water Authority is launching a series of free classes this summer to help people make water-wise yard makeovers.

Here are some outdoor water conservation tips from the agency:

• Repair leaks quickly.

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• Wash paved surfaces only when necessary for health and safety.

• Eliminate inefficient landscape irrigation, such as runoff and overspray.

• Irrigate only during early morning and early evening hours.

• Use hoses with automatic shut-off valves for car washing and watering areas that aren't on automated irrigation systems.

• Use recycled or non-potable water for construction activities when possible.

Water conservation tips from the San Diego County Water Authority
San Diego County Water Authority
Water conservation tips from the San Diego County Water Authority

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