Rebecca jensen

With improved snow pack and reservoir levels, California water providers want the state to reduce or eliminate emergency drought measures imposed last year. Some experts caution abandoning conservation measures would be a bad move. They say although El Niño brought heavy rains to California this winter, it’s not enough for the state to recover from four dry years.

Even if the state and cities relax water restrictions, we should not ease up on water conservation measures, according to Rebecca Jepsen, a University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Master Gardener who writes a monthly gardening column in the San Jose Mercury News.

Jepsen, who is also a REALTOR® with Alain Pinel Realtors, is passionate about saving water. “We all need to continue cutting back on water usage,” she recently told members of the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS®.

According to Jepsen, as of 2014, California needed 11 trillion gallons of rain to recover – that’s 17 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. From June through February, California residents were able to cut water usage 23.9 percent compared to their 2013 usage, almost reaching Gov. Jerry Brown’s target of 25 percent. The state is currently at about 80 percent of normal.

The State Water Resources Control Board is scheduled to meet next month and will possibly ease rules for Northern California, which received much of the winter’s rainfall. Southern California wasn’t quite as lucky and has experienced less rain and hotter, drier temperatures.

Jepsen said dropping water conservation measures altogether would be unwise. She explained 50 percent of water goes to the environment – to streams, rivers and wetlands. The remaining 50 percent is controlled – 80 percent is devoted to agriculture, which is needed to grow food, and 20 percent to municipal/residential use, of which 50 percent goes to outdoor irrigation.

Outdoor usage of water is an area residents need to improve upon. According to the UCCE Master Gardener, a typical turf lawn uses 57 inches of water per year. She suggests removing or replacing turf lawns with eco-lawns, meadow lawns, sedges and herbs. Use thyme and manzanita as groundcover. These lawn options save water and are attractive, she said.

Jepsen shared the following outdoor water-saving tips with REALTORS® to share with their clients: 1. Don’t run irrigation systems during the middle of the day. The best time to water is between 5-8 a.m.

  1. Use efficient low-flow irrigation and check for leaks. Leaky irrigation systems can waste 6,000 gallons a month. Invest in a SmartController, which doesn’t run when it rains and runs more frequently during hot, dry spells.
  2. Remove overgrown, tired, inappropriate plants.
  3. Apply 2-3 inches of compost and mulch around plants and trees to retain water and feed the soil.
  4. Water just enough to keep plants healthy. Jepsen noted contrary to what some people think, lawns and outdoor plants do not need to be watered as often or as much.

Jepsen also encourages families to grow their own food. “You’ll have food at your table and it’s a relaxing. Grow what you want to eat and share with your neighbors,” said Jepsen.