Keep on Saving Water!

Although we did have a few wonderfully wet weeks last winter, El Niño didn’t really deliver the deluge we were hoping for. So, when it comes to water, how are we really doing?

The answer is mixed. Although we made great inroads into saving water we need to continue conserving.

Our rain-year runs from July 1 to June 30, and fortunately, we got 96 percent of the annual average. The numbers were so good that this spring the State Water Resources Control Board updated its emergency regulations, allowing water retailers throughout the state to set their own restrictions based on local conditions and requirements beginning in June.

Many water districts in the Bay Area chose to ease restrictions or drop them altogether. Santa Clara Valley Water District, for example, reduced its restrictions to 20 percent from 30 percent, while Fremont, Newark and Union City dropped their reductions all together.

Some worried that the savings we saw under the mandatory restrictions would evaporate when residents began relying on their best judgment on how much and how often they water their landscapes; however, recent numbers show that we are continuing to conserve.

In June, compared to the same month last year, San Jose Water Company cut water use by 27.8 percent, East Bay Municipal Utility District by 18.1 percent, Santa Cruz by 20.9 percent, Alameda County Water District by 28.7 percent and Palo Alto by 17.9 percent.

The majority of our water — 55 percent — comes primarily from snow and rainfall in the Sierra Nevada. Another 40 percent is from natural groundwater and area reservoirs. The remaining 5 percent is recycled water — purified waste water. With or without restrictions, we must continue to work on reducing water use, and capturing and reusing water for irrigation, industry and agriculture.
“Our main message to the public right now is ‘Thank you’ for the tremendous response to the drought and the savings that have been achieved over the last year,” says Jerry De La Piedra, unit manager for the Santa Clara Valley Water District. “However, one average year doesn’t erase four years of historic drought. We don’t know what next year will bring, so we’re asking everyone to continue to use water as efficiently as possible.”
Fall is a great time to rethink and replant your lawn, renew your garden, or make major water-saving changes to your landscape. By planting new eco-friendly sod or native and Mediterranean plants, you will not only significantly cut back on your water use, you will be providing necessary food and shelter to help save our endangered birds, bugs and bees.

Try replacing your lawn with a gorgeous array of plants and shrubs that produce flowers and create interest all year long.

If you just can’t bear to completely lose the lawn, try planting a smaller section of one of the many varieties of Delta Blue Grass California native sods. They roll out just like regular sod but require 50 percent less water. They also need to be mowed way less often, resulting in environmental savings well beyond water.

Look for city and county rebate programs that actually pay you to replace your water-guzzling lawns and replace older, inefficient irrigation controllers and sprinkler equipment.

You truly can go greener without the expansive, traditional lawn.

Rebecca Jepsen is a Santa Clara County Master Gardener.