We are currently in a Stage 1 water shortage warning here in Santa Cruz. In Stage 1, each user is provided with a monthly water use allotment or budget. This provides the homeowner or building owner with an understanding of how much they are currently using compared to what their budget is.

Currently, in Stage 1, there are no penalties for going over your budget, just a notice from the water agency alerting you of your overuse. However, if Santa Cruz Water decides to move into a “Stage 2 Water Shortage Alarm”, the penalties will begin to be applied to those users who go over their budget. There is currently a lot of discussion around this issue, and we could see a move to Stage 2 in the coming months but more likely it will go into effect next May.

Whether you are in the Santa Cruz area or you are covered by another water district, you are likely to experience fines for over-use in the next 12 months. With the population on the rise and no clear drought proof plan for an increased water supply in Santa Cruz, water restrictions and fines could become a regular part of our life for the foreseeable future. There are actions you can take now to help reduce your exposure to fines and penalties in the coming years and I will go over a few of those below. (This information is directed towards homeowners and small commercial properties. If you are a large property owner or HOA and have a monthly water bill that is above $3,000 per month, you should be partnering with an irrigation management or landscape company that specializes in water use reduction and management to help bring that expense down. The money you are able to save on water should recover the cost of that service. This vendor may need to be in addition to your typical landscape maintenance company.)

Here are a few ways to reduce water use and prepare for the future:

Program your irrigation controller properly

The first thing we do when assessing a property’s water use efficiency is to review the controller program schedule. If your controller is not programmed to apply the right amount of water, no amount of efficient system improvements will help. It all starts here and there are many resources to help you with this process.

Install high-efficiency sprinkler nozzles

I recommend MP rotator nozzles which can be purchased at Ewing Irrigation in Soquel. These sprinkler nozzles will apply the water more evenly and effectively, reducing the loss of water due to wind or evaporation.

Install sprinklers with check valves

Check valves help eliminate seepage at your sprinklers. When your irrigation valve shuts off, the water left in the line will usually leak out of the lowest sprinkler head. We call this “low head drainage” and it can be a real issue for slopes. If you have a low part of your yard that is always wet, this may be the issue. A check valve will actually close the sprinkler off once the pressure is reduced below a specific threshold, therefore holding that water in the irrigation line until the next time your system turns on.

Install a check valve on your anti-siphon control valves if they are below your irrigation lines

Similar to the issue with your sprinklers, you could have the same problem with your valve if they are, 1) anti-siphon valves and 2) located below your irrigation lines. When a valve is turned off the remaining water in the line will drain out of the valve wasting a significant amount of water. You can install a check valve on the downstream side of your control valve to help reduce this issue.

Change out sprinklers for drip irrigation in planting beds

Drip irrigation is a great way to reduce water and apply only the needed water directly to the plant instead of the entire planting bed.

Install mulch around your plants

Not only will this look better, but it will help retain water moisture in the soil.

Replace high-water use plants with native drought-resistant planting

This also includes lawn areas. If you have a lawn that is not used as a play area for kids or dogs and is only aesthetic, think about removing it and installing some native, drought tolerant, no-mow grass that can serve the same purpose while using a fraction of the amount of water.

These are just a few water-saving techniques, but the main ingredient to conserving water in your landscape is you. Simply by paying attention to your controller and the needs of your landscape, you can preserve a generous amount of water. Remember the majority of landscape issues arise due to over-watering, so “when in drought”, turn down that controller.