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Landscape Water Use: Measure What You Manage

As we all know, the Santa Barbara area is experiencing an unprecedented drought, with the driest consecutive three years on record, and no one knows when the drought will end.

What we do know is that Lake Cachuma is at 37 percent capacity, and the State Water Project deliveries are projected at 5 percent. We also know that about 60 percent of our water use is on our landscapes, and almost 50 percent of that water is wasted.

Looking for advice and direction from our water customers, the water providers for the areas of Santa Barbara, Goleta, Montecito, Carpinteria and the County of Santa Barbara invited property managers and landscape contractors to participate in a forum specifically to devise strategies to permanently reduce landscape water use and water waste.

On April 23, a large group of 50 property managers and landscape contractors, representing a broad array of different types of properties (small residential, apartment, condo, retail, commercial and HOA) met with water providers for an in-depth discussion about what they think we can do to effectively and significantly reduce our landscape water use while maintaining the beauty of our community. We needed to gain a better understanding of their needs and challenges, and they needed to understand ours.

At the forum, research findings from a 2010 Santa Barbara survey were presented documenting how we in the South Coast are disconnected for our actual water use, thinking our household water use is 100 gallons per day while it is actually on average 314 gallons per day. At the same time, we are absolutely convinced (88 percent) we are using the right amount of water on landscapes because our landscape looks good. The obvious disconnect is that we do not know how much water we use for our landscapes.

The consensus among forum attendees was that landscape water use must be effectively managed as it is the responsible thing to do. How can you manage what you don’t measure?

The actionable strategies that were selected as the most important include:

» 1. Landscape water budgets
a. Landscape contractors need to create water budgets for their clients as a tool to assess if the right amount of water is being used for the landscape.

» 2. Weekly meter reading
a. Landscape contractors measure, report and track closely the water they manage.

» 3. Landscape surveys
a. Identify and fix leaks, broken and misaligned heads, adjust the irrigation schedule weekly or install a smart, weather-based irrigation controller.

» 4. Property managers need to conduct a monthly walk-through check-up of irrigation system with the landscape contractor.

» 5. Landscape management contract specifications should require that landscape budgets be met, require efficient water management strategies and landscaper certification in water management.

The findings from the forum are clear. We must effectively reduce landscape water use and waste by creating a landscape water budget, measuring and recording water use weekly, evaluating our irrigation systems and fixing problems identified in the survey. There is no water to waste.

Lake Cachuma is at 37 percent capacity, and the state has cut our water allocation by 95 percent. We can get through this but must look at where we waste and eliminate it as best as possible for we owe it to our children and grandchildren to control this issue of excessive landscape water use. Who knows when the drought will end, and do we really want to keep repeating this every drought?

Indeed, if we are all in it together, then we all need to do our part.

— Alison Jordan is a water conservation supervisor for the City of Santa Barbara.

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