Local cities encouraging water savings through incentives

  • Randall Barron, a water resources specialist with the City of Santa Rosa inspects the garden of Phillip Henderson as Henderson gets ideas for replacing his lawn and planting drought tolerant vegetation amid critical drought conditions in Santa Rosa, Tuesday July 15, 2014. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2014

Most mornings, Randall Barron gets his start when the sun comes up. His calendar is packed, his car trunk full. Barron is one of Santa Rosa’s four “water cops” — officially, water resource specialists who patrol the city’s streets in search of water waste.

This summer, as the drought lingers on and the state’s water woes deepen, most of Barron’s time is spent traveling house to house, helping people find ways to save water.

“It all started the second Jerry Brown said the ‘D’ word,” Barron said referring to the work that began with the governor’s drought declaration in January. “I went from being able to see people in two or three days, and now it takes me a month or more to get to them.”

The backlog reflects the swelling interest among water-conscious city residents in tapping a number of programs aiming to cut household usage and save money on an increasingly scarce resource. A record number of customers have applied or inquired about Santa Rosa’s programs this year, and 1,675 homeowners are currently enrolled in a rebate program that pays residents to replace their lawns with drought-tolerant vegetation and mulches. The program pays 50 cents for each square-foot of lawn removed.

Another Santa Rosa program offers rebates for residents to install low-flow fixtures, including new faucets, shower heads and garden hose nozzles.

The voluntary efforts, which are in place in other cities across the county, are part of an evolving, two-pronged, carrot-and-stick approach to water conservation statewide. The incentives are the carrot, and that approach is set to get a boost in state funding next month, enabling local cities to launch new programs or enlarge existing ones.

On Tuesday, the state introduced the stick, with water regulators unanimously approving mandatory measures to cut outdoor water use and fines of up to $500 for violators.

The goal is to reach the 20 percent reduction target that Brown established in January when he declared drought. So far, the state isn’t anywhere near that mark, having recorded a 1 percent increase in use since the start of the year.

Officials are hoping that small changes in household water use can turn the picture around. Some residents say they recognize their role in achieving the water savings.

“I’ve already removed my sprinkler system, and I’m going to tear out my lawns and make everything drought-tolerant,” said Phillip Henderson, who met Barron outside his Bennett Valley apartment home Tuesday to get an estimate on how much he might earn by removing his lawn.

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