Homeowners would be wise to prepare now for the water restrictions that are sure to come.
Although it's important to save water inside the home, the outside is where big savings can be realized. Some estimates say we Westerners spend as much as 75 percent of our water budget on landscaping.
Some water-saving strategies to contemplate putting into place:
- Use fewer plants. It's very basic, but some people don't think about removing plants from their property. Roger Manley, who works for Garden Solutions Landscaping near Monterey, California, said he periodically "edits plants" from his home landscaping if they're growing too close together or are otherwise unattractive. Fewer plants equals water savings.
- Mulch. This low-tech solution involves covering the ground around your plants with some kind of material, which will keep in moisture as well as discourage weed growth. One to two inches of mulch is sufficient.Bark and wood chips are popular, but you could also use pine needles, compost, "gorilla hair" bark, leaves, or even shredded newspaper to mulch around your plants.
- Get rid of your lawn. You've been hearing this for a long time, but it's true: Lawns suck up an immense amount of water. It may not be practical to keep your lawn during a drought, says Richard Boynton, owner of All Things Green Landscape Services in Marina, California: "If you have a lawn, plan to get rid of it."
- Put in more hardscape. If you do dig up the lawn, think about planting drought-tolerant shrubs in its place, but also putting in more hardscape, whether in the form of crushed gravel paths, flagstone walkways, concrete patios, or areas of river rock.These items will add visual interest to your yard, are easy to care for, and best of all, don't need to be watered.
- Artificial turf. This has become the hot new option for lawns on the Monterey Peninsula, with newer versions that look and feel more like real grass. Manley says his company has installed about 100,000 square feet of artificial turf in the last year, providing the look of a lawn without the watering and other fuss. However, there's more cost up front to install this product as opposed to sod.
- Plant drought-tolerant landscaping. Native plants are best, says Boynton: "It's a truly sustainable option - they live on the rainfall provided." But Manley also notes the advantages of succulents, which thrive on neglect, and many of which can survive on just a little water once a month.At plant nurseries, also look for drought-tolerant plants from Australia, South Africa, and other areas with Mediterranean climates similar to California's.
- Install a greywater system. Greywater (or gray water) is waste water from your home's sinks, showers and laundry; it's fairly easy to divert it into a yard to irrigate shrubs and other plants. However, some municipalities have rules regarding greywater use, so it's best to check with city officials before doing this. For an expansive amount information about greywater go to this greywater website.
In addition, a good brochure on greywater can be downloaded here: A Homeowner's Guide to Conserving Water (PDF). This brochure is intended as a general reference tool and in no way supersedes statutory law or rules in the County.
Information about a no-permit greywater system is available.
- Smart watering systems. There's a lot of interesting technology now available to help homeowners reduce landscaping water use. "Smart" watering systems make sure the sprinklers only come on when needed, using information from satellites and home weather stations that measure evaporation and other factors.
- Inside the house. Most of us know the basic steps toward saving water within the home: low-flow toilets and shower heads are helpful, as is mindful water use. Set a timer so that your showers are under 5 minutes, and don't leave the water running while brushing your teeth, shaving, or washing dishes. Sure, it's more trouble to turn the faucet on and off a lot, but it will save hundreds of gallons over the course of a few months