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Experts advise South Bay residents remove lawns to fight drought

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Santa Clara County residents are being asked to reduce water usage and local water authorities are offering incentives to help homeowners and businesses achieve this goal.

In mid-May, Valley Water officials said county residents are going in the wrong direction in their use of water. Valley Water reported residents reduced water by 15% last October and November, but then went the other direction and increased water usage by a 30% during March. To curb the problem, Valley Water’s board of directors voted in April to restrict outdoor watering to two days a week. The San Jose City Council voted in May to require new developments to install drought-tolerant landscapes.

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To incentivize residents and businesses to do so, Valley Water has a number of rebate programs. Its Landscape Rebate Program offers rebates for homeowners, HOAs, businesses and institutions to help them replace high-water use lawns with drought-resistant plants, remove swimming pools and replace irrigation equipment with high-efficiency equipment.

Qualifying residents can apply for up to $3,000 in rebates until June 23, 2023. Work done on commercial or multi-family properties with five or more units can qualify for up to $50,000.

Dennis Murphy, a director at the nonprofit water use think tank Sustainable Silicon Valley, said San Jose struggles with residential water use because many people have yards that need watering.

“Basically, Californians should not have lawns,” he told San José Spotlight. “This is not going to get any better. The impacts of climate change are more and more obvious.”

He said people should select plants native to California’s dry climate to create a drought-tolerant landscape, and get advice from a local nursery or landscaper.

With water bills rising, and rebates available, landscapers expect an influx of business. Ozzy Marquez, who owns Quality Green Landscaping and Gardening Services in San Jose, said he’s received numerous requests to remove lawns. The price to remove lawns can cost anywhere between $1,500 to $2,500 for an average-sized residential lawn of 1,200 to 2,000 square feet.

This space in the UC Davis Mary Wattis Brown Garden is an example experts use of a native “California lawn,” which uses native plants and encourages drought tolerance and biodiversity. Photo courtesy of UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.

For people who do not want to remove their lawns, experts say there are options to keep plants on a property without wasting water.

Alessandro Ossola, assistant professor of urban plant science at UC Davis, said while people may be concerned with the cost of removal, traditional lawns are more costly over time with maintenance and watering. He advised replacing old irrigation systems and adding mulch, which reduces water loss through evaporation, to save money over time by reducing water waste.

‘’Replacing your lawn with a diverse landscape composed by native grasses, shrubs and trees can ensure your water bill is dramatically reduced,” Ossola told San José Spotlight.

Samuel Sandoval, associate professor in water resources at UC Davis, said people should stretch water usage to prevent any trees from dying.

“Keep the trees alive,” he said. “Do a once-a-week deep irrigation. Make sure you are irrigating around the trees and the soil is very moist, so it will last for an entire week.”

This is not the year to grow a garden, Sandoval said.

“Let’s leave it to the farmers, let’s save that water and use it for saving the trees,” he said.

Residents can research Cal Water’s drought-resistant plant species list and San Jose Water’s GardenSoft website or contact a volunteer master gardener consultant in their area by searching their ZIP code at https://mg.ucanr.edu/FindUs.

Contact Natalie Hanson at natalie.hanson96@gmail.com or @nhanson_reports on Twitter.

The post Experts advise South Bay residents remove lawns to fight drought appeared first on San José Spotlight.

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