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Goleta Union School District Superintendent Kathy Boomer says her schools have seen improved conservation thanks to retooled restrooms and more sophisticated irrigation controls. (Mollie Helmuth photo)

[Editor’s note: Noozhawk has embarked on a series exploring South Coast water issues. Click here for the first installment.]

Santa Barbara County may not be in an official drought, but local water agencies say residents should expect to see more focus on irrigation and landscaping within water conservation programs.

“Right now we have healthy water supply locally and are fortunate for that,” said Alison Jordan, water conservation coordinator for the city of Santa Barbara, “but we still can’t take it for granted.”

As a service to residents and business owners, Noozhawk has compiled a list of detailed programs that may be useful — but we’re conserving our resources and stretching it out over a three-part series: Green Culture, Developing Technologies and Landscaping Details.

Green Culture

Conservation programs are in full force these days, with irrigation as the hot topic.

Several programs have emerged to help residents understand their own water usage, most of which are free and often underutilized. The best way to explore the programs is to check out, a collaboration site outlining Santa Barbara County, municipal and various water district conservation efforts.

Green Gardener Program

All smart irrigation techniques stem from smart gardeners, whether they are hired or homegrown. The county’s Green Gardener Program aims to educate local gardeners about resource efficiency as well as how to troubleshoot leaks in irrigation systems.

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Recent graduates of the Green Gardener Program sport certificates marking their accomplishment. (Santa Barbara County Water Agency photo)

“One thing people can do is hire gardeners who have that training and ask for that in the service they are getting provided to them,” said Helena Wiley von Rueden of the Santa Barbara County Water Agency.

The 10-class sessions are taught twice a year in English and Spanish through Santa Barbara City College’s Continuing Education Division, and cost is optional.

Smart Irrigation Water Checkups

All local water districts offer free at-home water checkups. This means a water conservation specialist visits your home to show you how to check for leaks, read the water meter and develop an irrigation schedule.

The following are links to several local district sites where they offer this service

» Click here for the Carpinteria Valley Water District.

» Click here for the Goleta Water District.

» Click here for the Montecito Water District.

» Click here for the Santa Barbara Water Resources Division.


As part of conservation outreach, water agencies are putting on educational seminars in schools.

“It links to state standards,” explained Len Fleckenstein, senior program specialist with the county Water Agency. “State curriculum gears toward ensuring students understand supply issues.”

Some schools are taking conservation efforts to a new level. Goleta Union School District Superintendent Kathy Boomer is making sure water management isn’t just hypothetical on her campuses.
“Most of our programs are outside the classroom. They have to do with our own water usage,” she explained.

“We used our bond money in the ‘90s to systematically replace all of our toilets with flushometer” title=“flushometers”>flushometers. Those prevented students from flushing more than once.”

The schools are now undergoing an even more sustainable endeavor — replacing all the older toilets, which flush at 3.5 gallons, to more efficient low-flow toilets that flush at 1.6 gallons. Boomer estimated the project will be finished in about two years.

The Goleta district also is stepping up with landscape irrigation, a big deal for schools with large lawns to water. The district is using reclaimed water at Ellwood and Isla Vista schools for irrigation and now has a centralized controller for all nine school sites to prevent unneeded watering.

“We have microclimates within the district — Isla Vista is wetter than Brandon,” Bommer said. “What our grounds department does is work around the district, monitoring water retention in the soil and making adjustments accordingly.”

The school district is looking into waterless urinals for future renovations.

California Landscape Budgets Program

For customers with a water meter in Goleta or Santa Barbara, the Landscape Budgets Program is a free management tool to help monitor water use.

Participants track their monthly water use and compare it to a customized water budget, which tells them how closely they were irrigating to the actual needs of the plants. Once the participant is registered, monthly updates are provided that take into account regional weather patterns.

To participate in this program, a customer needs to understand how to read a water meter. Although there is no universal model, individual water districts can teach customers what to look for when meter reading.

The Santa Barbara and Carpinteria Valley Water District feature instructions on their Web sites. A good resource for other meter-reading questions is the California Urban Water Conservation Council.

The 20 Gallon Challenge

Santa Barbara launched its 20 Gallon Challengein March, and welcomed the county’s participation in July. The site breaks down ways you can save water in everyday activities, hopefully reaching at least 20 gallons per day.

The program seeks “to remind people that it’s fairly easy to save another 20 gallons of water a day,” Jordan said.

Conservation tips are arranged in a list format so people can check off pledges such as “I will use 2 inches to 3 inches of mulch throughout my garden,” or “I will learn to read my water meter.” Once the pledge-maker checks off everything he or she plans to do, the program calculates the approximate water savings per day.

“We don’t want people to just check off things they already do — this is 20 gallons in addition to whatever they are already doing to conserve,” Jordan explained.

Links throughout the site help people understand how to effectively follow the guidelines and registered pledge-makers are entered into a raffle to receive a digital shower timer.

Noozhawk staff writer Mollie Helmuth can be reached at