By Rory O’Sullivan
California’s record drought is leaving homeowners with the burden of trying to figure out how to reduce their water use and save on their bills. With Governor Jerry Brown’s Executive Order issued recently, it sets new guidelines and restrictions for water use throughout the state, while several Inland area residents consider a more drought-tolerant landscape to save water.
“The water bill just kept on going up and I thought, well I have to do something,” said Ruthie Ragin of Rialto, who has seen her bill ‘skyrocket’ in recent years.
Ragin is replacing her grass lawn with more drought-tolerant plants, gravel and artificial turf to offset her water costs.
“It’s really for my grandkids,” said Ragin. “I don’t want to leave them this house and have them paying a high water bill.”
West Valley Water District (WVWD) which covers parts of Rialto, Fontana and Colton has increased water rates every year since 2013 and will continue to raise rates 15 percent each year until at least 2017.
“We’re hoping to get people to move away from traditional landscaping,” said WVWD Assistant General Manager Tom Crowley. “Using less water is going to become very important going forward.”
Crowley said people can still have nice yards without grass and recommended them to visit WVWD’s, ‘Waterwise Demonstration Garden,’ which shows cost-effective landscaping options for homeowners. He said up to 70 percent of drinking water is being used outside of the home.
Western Municipal Water District (WMWD) said customer’s water rates have increased roughly five percent each year since 2010, with the majority of the burden placed on high usage customers. WMWD is expecting to raise rates five percent each year going forward.
Pam Pavela, the water use efficiency specialist with WMWD, said people have several options when setting up a drought-tolerant landscape. She offers tours and tips of WMWD’s garden every day except holidays from 10 am to 4 pm.
“There are so many plants to choose from,” said Pavela. “You can have a garden with purples, and yellows, and whites, and reds, you don’t have to just put rocks out there to save money.”
Pavela said builders put in the cold weather grass found back east because of the shade of green but even switching to a summer grass can cut water use by 20 percent.
“That’s what is typically in people’s yards, they want green all year but now they’re paying for it,” states Pavela.
Pavela mentioned if people “really want to keep their grass,” to use high efficiency sprinklers which rebates are available for the change-over. She also said ‘smart controllers’ which download weather readings daily and adjust watering accordingly with drip irrigation and fixing irrigation leaks are also good ways to reduce water use.
“I always send them up there,” Ryan McManus, Riverside Public Utilities water use efficiency specialist said, referring to the WMWD garden tours.
McManus said water agencies are all working together to meet the governor’s water use reductions.
Brown’s Executive Order calls for water agencies to reduce drinking water usage by 25 percent through February 2016 compared to 2013 usage. The state can now fine water agencies $10,000 a day if they fail to meet state targets for water conservation.
The governor wants California to lose 50 million square feet of water-guzzling lawns, an area about twice the size of Disneyland.
The governor is prohibiting any irrigation with potable water on new homes that doesn’t involve drip systems or micro-sprays.
Golf courses will be required to cut back on use of treated water as well, among other measures targeting turfs.
“RPU customers did a great job and reduced overall use by 13 percent last year simply by reducing outdoor watering times, fixing leaky toilets and faucets, and using our conservation rebate programs to remove turf areas,” said McManus. “We will continue to support the state’s programs and ask our customers to continue the good work that they have done in helping to save our precious water resources.”
“We’re in a drought right now, if I can do my part in conserving, then I will,” said Abbie Flanagan who switched out her lawn for drought-tolerant plants and gravel and mulch in 2009. “It’s responsible to not use drinking water on a lawn everyday.”
Flanagan borrowed plant and layout ideas from her brother’s yard in Pasadena. She now has colorful greenery, including red-barked manzanita, red and yellow kangaroo paws from Australia and a silver dollar eucalyptus tree.
She paid $3,000 and received rebates from the city for the majority of the project and a major decrease in her water bill. The savings are nice but she mainly did it because, “it was the right thing to do.”
McManus said Riverside has spent the past 10 years reducing water usage and that most places in the Inland area will have a hard time reducing water rates further unless people make changes to their landscapes.
“If you don’t have anything outdoors your per capita water reductions look better,” said McManus. “The vast majority of our housing stocks are single family homes.”
He said by years end, RPU will have given out three million dollars for residents to make their yards as water efficient as possible.
“We still have room to grow our conservation efforts in the city,” said McManus.
Since 2011, WMWD decreased per person water use by 30 percent.
RPU said they do not plan to increase water rates at this time but all three agencies are implementing emergency ordinances that will extend current mandatory water conservation restrictions limiting how much people can water yards eliminating runoff and fixing leaks within 72 hours, and no washing down sidewalks, driveways, patios or other paved or hard services.
For more information on how to save water and what rebates are available in your area, visit IEfficient.com.
For information on WVWD’s garden visit www.wvwd.org/index. aspx?NID=71.
For information on WMWD’s garden visit www.wmwd.com/index. aspx?nid=124.
Several water agencies also offer free home consultations on ways to reduce your water bill. For more information contact your local water provider.