La Verne’s green rebate fights the drought
by Michael Saakyan
photography by Daniel Torres
Bryce Beseth and his wife Gay Nakahara are sometimes able to skip going to the grocery store. A produce section, figuratively like Whole Foods, is just steps away in their backyard, abundant with fruits and vegetables. In early October, avocados hang from the tree, enormous and green; in summer, the limes are round and juicy, and in fall the Granny Smith apples are glowing. Aloe plants, most commonly used for medical purposes, are scattered around the backyard, along with a large cherimoya tree that delivers decadently sweet fruit. Jalapeno peppers bring out an aromatic spicy delight in the garden. For further visual pleasantry, Bryce and Gay plant Kalanchoe flowers, which bring a vibrant and vivid atmosphere as other different fruits and vegetables grow around them. “The artichoke tree gets huge around spring time, and we’re waiting for the pumpkins to come out in late October,” Gay says about her radiant garden. Mulch quenches the garden’s thirst.
Three years ago, Bryce and Gay knew it was time for a change when they received their first water bill at their new Claremont home. “Amount due: $350,” displayed in bold type at the bottom of the billing statement flabbergasted the couple. They were falling in love with their new 5,300-square-foot home, but they faced an unsustainable challenge with the water bill. Bryce took to the Internet and found a rebate offer for lawn conversions—a less expensive and environmentally friendly way to maintain the yard.
Converting the lawn
Like Bryce and Gay, a growing number of California residents have made the decision to tear out their lawns and replace them with drought tolerant landscape to save money. Golden State Water Company, which distributes water to Claremont, offers residents a rebate for these types of conversions. Residents who convert their backyard qualify for a rebate of up to $2 per square feet of turf removed and replaced with material, like stone or mulch, which does not require water.
Before beginning the process of removing their turf, Bryce and Gay had to pre-apply for the rebate by showing a recent photo of the property and a recent water bill. After the application was received, a mandatory inspection was completed, and notice was given to proceed with renovations. The next step was to find the best landscaper to design their yard with the right drought tolerant and California native plants.
“I was looking for a company that can help us do California native, water conservation, drought resistant plants. I interviewed a couple people, and Geordie Schuurman from Natural Earth was perfect. He breathed the word ‘sustainable living,’” Gay says. “My husband had been looking for drought resistant California native plants for a while after we moved in, and he wanted everything to be organic and pesticide free.”
Geordie’s job was not easy, as he had to be innovative with the large backyard space. He decided edible landscaping would work best for the couple. Soon, the backyard began sprouting an array of fruits and vegetables.
Landscaping that mimics nature
Geordie used a natural type of landscaping that copies nature. “Permaculture employs the things that have been observed in nature such as mulch. It uses basic principles of sustainable agriculture and reflects the permaculture word formation: permanent agriculture,” says Geordie. By using mulch instead of soil, the plants require less water while still maintaining growth. “Mulch is a natural addition to the microbial decomposition process that improves soil health, and it’s also what you would find in the forest. Where you see leaves on the ground, there’s a cycle to that.”
Another popular water saving strategy is xeriscaping, which uses native plants growing in their natural habitat. John Garrison, University of La Verne alumnus and owner of Garrison Nursery in Upland, specializes in xeriscaping. John says when native plants match their climate, they require less water and grow well. These native plants also attract hummingbirds, butterflies and other beneficial creatures. John encourages Southern California residents to use plants from the Southwest because they share similar climate temperatures and require less water. “Lots of unusual colors like the cercidium ‘desert museum’ have been in high demand with La Verne residents for xeriscaping because water is getting expensive, and it is more of an environmentally conscious way to garden.” He notes this Southwestern plant is a favorite because it takes the place of water guzzling landscaping and grows vibrant purple flowers.
Although most residents are contemplating eliminating their turf, John suggests that his customers keep a patch of grass but use precision series spray nozzles over their sprinklers. He says that another great way to water plants is a system called greywater. Water from the washing machine, for example, can be directed to the basins of trees instead of sending it down the sewer.
The reason so many Californians have become more water conscious is because California is affected by a serious drought that has reached record heights. As of November 2014, the U.S. Drought Monitor reports that 100 percent of California is considered to be in a drought while more than 58 percent is at a worst case “exceptional” level. Additionally, California is reaching high records of climate warmth fueled by the drought, not seen since 1895, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
Three Valleys Municipal Water District (TVMWD), a public agency that supplies imported water to the area, reports that in 2011 Claremont residents received rebates for 1,700 square feet of removed turf. By the end of 2012, the amount had grown exponentially with 148,262 square feet of turf being removed from Claremont. By the first half of 2014, Claremont residents converted an additional 52,983 square feet of lawn. In 2014, La Verne and Pomona residents, who pay less for water under their own water systems, also began to join the conversion trend, receiving rebates for more than 25,000 square feet of lawn replacement. By removing the costly turf, not only did residents receive a large check, but they also helped save the state water in a time when water is in short supply.
La Verne’s drought watch
Brian Bowcock, elected director of Three Valleys Municipal Water District division three for the cities of Claremont and La Verne, says that the two cities are in good shape compared to other cities in Southern California. La Verne buys 70-75 percent of its water from TVMWD while the remaining 25-35 percent comes from wells. Most other cities in Southern California are obligated to buy their water out of state, usually from the Colorado River, which costs residents more.
However, Brian says if La Verne does not receive rainy weather by April 2015, the city will have to go into mandatory rationing. “La Verne is prepared for it; they can go to mandatory rationing almost instantly. The Council has voted on it so everything is in place. If that happens, the city is prepared to cut back the amount of water the people get.” If the state requires harsher cutbacks in water conservation, then the city will position to a tier system. “As of October 2014, La Verne is on a normal program, but if they have to go to a more strict regulation, the first thing they are going to do is enact that second tier which means La Verne’s water cost is going to go up to $1 per 1,000 gallons on top of what they are already paying,” says Brian. He notes that La Verne’s residents have historically been water conscience and have always cut back more than their city requested share. By using less water, the city of La Verne can help eliminate the mandatory rationing from taking effect and keep residents’ water bills low.
Saving water saves money
“The general rule is that tuft removal saves the average homeowner about 30 percent on his water bill. The goal is for long-term savings, and the more many of these landscapes mature, the less water the plants will need for survival, leading to long-term water savings and healthier landscapes,” says Kirk R. Howie, assistant general manager-administration of TVMWD.
Bryce and Gay say they are delighted with the outcome of their drought tolerant garden as it sprouts fresh organic fruits and vegetables while simultaneously decreasing their water bill. Gay says she hopes to create an example to her neighborhood with the sustainable living and edible landscaping. By creating sustainable yards, Californians can make their lawns work for them. A grocery store in your own back yard with edible landscaping sounds idealistic yet is very doable. The fruits and vegetables from Bryce and Gay’s yard prove it.