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Tapping into Water-saving Landscapes

By Gathering Marbet
Special to The Lookout

July 20 – In a quest to conserve water, the City is encouraging residents and businesses to convert their lawns into “eco-friendly environments” by tapping into renewed grants from California Friendly Landscapes.

With some homes using more than 200 gallons of water a day for irrigation -- much of which ends up on the streets and sidewalks -- the City has always been eager to find alternatives.

Now, with water rates on the rise, City officials are aiming to decrease over-all water consumption by 20 percent over the next five years.

"We used to have a low interest loan program for the same kind of water-efficient landscaping," said Bob Galbreath, a City of Santa Monica landscape and water specialist. "But the interest rate wasn’t very attractive… We had very few applications."

As a result, City officials came up with providing partial grants to individuals and businesses, including institutional, private and public entities, to upgrade their landscapes using water conservation methods.

The methods include integrating native and other draught resistant plants, installing water saving irrigation systems and using “gray water” from household utilities, such as sinks, bathtubs, and laundry facilities, for irrigation.

By replacing traditional sprinkler systems with water efficient ones and planting native gardens that use less water, residents can cut down water usage by 80 percent and save 60 percent on lawn maintenance.

Native California plants also cut down on the use of poisonous chemicals and pollution from lawn equipment, reduce yard maintenance and waste and provide a harmonious environment for native birds and insects.

Grant applications under the current six-month cycle must be submitted by October 3, 2005. Another $80,000 will be available over the following six months.

A panel of judges looks over each application and awards points based on over-all water savings, irrigation practices, project design and other proposed water conservation techniques.

The projects that score the highest in all categories are eligible for 50 percent of the total costs involved with a maximum award of $20,000.

"We don’t necessarily give people the full amount of money that they ask for," Galbreath said.

The City wants to spread the funding out to as many worthy applicants as possible and partially funds some projects, he said.

Applicants are encouraged to offer visions and ideas for their landscaping ventures.

One of the things that the City Water Resources office would like to see more of is gardens and landscapes containing California native plants.

"We don’t try to tell people what to plant," Galbreath said.

Instead Galbrath directs people to bewaterwise.com, which provides an encyclopedia of California native plants in its garden guide

The grants are provided by a City fund of more than $800,000 earmarked to make water-saving changes to residential and commercial landscapes.

So far the project, which started in the fall of 2004, has allocated funds to 19 out of 32 applicants.

For more information contact www.smepd.org <http://www.smepd.org/> or call (310) 458-8405.

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