GreenTown Los Altos

Stop Dripping! Whip Your House Into Drought Tolerant Savings


Jan 2014


Drought Declaration : Here’s what you can do.

Unless you live under a rock, you know that California is in an unprecedented drought. Gov. Brown has asked for an immediate 20% reduction in water use. The drought is so dismal, that even a miracle March will not affect this year’s supply, which means status quo on water is history and every Californian needs to take action to produce lasting sustainability for our state.

Our economy and environment depend on our ability to use this precious resource wisely. In Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, 50-70% of water use is used on irrigation of plants that are not suitable for our environment. The most egregious is turf.

“People need to live within their hydrologic reality,” said Barbara Vlamis, of AquAlliance which exists to “defend Northern California waters”.

Landscape conversion programs are the best means of water conservation. Santa Clara Valley Water District Directors, Brian Schmidt and Linda LeZotte, recommend doubling water conservation rebates to encourage sustainable behaviors. Residents can receive $4000 or more for replacing turf with more California friendly landscapes and upgrading to efficient irrigation systems.

Beautiful pallets of climate suitable plants are possible for replacing lawns. Residents around the state are realizing the multiple advantages of native plants over the monoculture of turf: less water, less maintenance, less creek-polluting fertilizer, greater biodiversity, greater sustainability for all. Don’t be the last water-waster on your street with a lawn.

Water supply and treatment is very energy intensive. Over 30% of the energy used in California is specifically to move and treat water. Conserving water results in energy conservation and reduced green house gas emissions.

Water Conservation Tips Abound


  • Never pour water down the drain when it can be reused (eg: used to water plants or garden or for flushing toilets.)
  • Repair dripping faucets by replacing washers.  One drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water per year.
  • Check all plumbing for leaks and have any leaks repaired by a plumber.
  • Retrofit all household faucets by installing aerators with flow restrictors.
  • Install an instant hot water heater on your sink, running water until it’s hot wastes water.
  • Insulate your water pipes to reduce heat loss and prevent them from breaking.
  • Install a water-softening system only when water minerals may damage your pipes. Turn the softener off while on vacation.
  • Choose appliances that are more energy and water efficient.
  • Check your well pump periodically. If the automatic pump turns on and off while water is not being used, you have a leak.
  • Avoid purchasing recreational water toys that require a constant stream of water or installing ornamental water features (such as fountains) unless they use re-circulated water.
  • Consider rainwater harvesting where practical.
  • Contact your local water provider for information and assistance. Sign up for a Water-Wise House Call to learn more about water conservation.


  • Plant native and/or drought-tolerant grasses, ground covers, shrubs, and trees. Once established, plants adapted to your local climate do not need water as frequently and will survive dry periods without watering. Small plants require less water to become established. Group plants together based on similar water needs.
  • Install irrigation devices that are the most water efficient for each use, such as micro and drip irrigation, and soaker hoses. Use subsurface or Netafim systems for lawn areas.
  • Use mulch to retain moisture in the soil and keep soil cool. Organic mulch also improves the soil and prevents weeds that compete with landscape plants for water.
  • Check your sprinkler system frequently, adjust so only your landscape is watered, not the house, sidewalk, or street.
  • Repair sprinklers that spray a fine mist. Most misting issues result from a pressure problem, properly regulating pressure in an irrigation system will prevent misting.
  • Check sprinkler systems and timing devices regularly to be sure they operate properly and do not leak.
  • Raise the lawn mower blade to at least three inches or to its highest level. A higher cut encourages grass roots to grow deeper, shades the root system, and holds soil moisture.
  • Plant drought-resistant lawn seed. Reduce or eliminate lawn areas and replace with climate suitable plants.
  • Avoid fertilizing your lawn. Applying fertilizer increases the need for water.
  • Turn irrigation down in fall and off in winter. Water manually in winter only if needed.
  • Invest in a weather-based irrigation controller—or a smart controller. These devices will automatically adjust the watering time and frequency based on soil moisture, rain, wind, and evaporation and transpiration rates. Check with your local water agency to see if there is a rebate available for the purchase of a smart controller.
  • A heavy rain eliminates the need for watering for up to two weeks.
  • Check the soil moisture levels with a soil probe, spade or large screwdriver. You don’t need to water if the soil is still moist. If your grass springs back when you step on it, it doesn’t need water yet.
  • If your yard requirez watering, do so early morning or later in the evening, when temperatures are cooler.
  • Water in several short sessions rather than one long one, your plants will better absorb moisture and avoid runoff.
  • Use a broom or blower instead of a hose to clean leaves and other debris from your driveway or sidewalk.
  • Avoid leaving sprinklers or hoses unattended. A garden hose can pour out 600 gallons or more in only a few hours.
  • In extreme drought, allow lawns to die in favor of preserving trees and large shrubs.


  • Install a new water-saving pool filter. A single back flushing with a traditional filter uses 180 to 250 gallons of water.
  • Cover pools and spas to reduce evaporation of water.


  • Consider purchasing a low-volume toilet that uses less than half the water of older models. Note: In many areas, low-volume units are required by law.
  • Install a toilet displacement device to cut down on the amount of water needed to flush. Place a one-gallon plastic jug of water into the tank to displace toilet flow (do not use a brick, it may dissolve and loose pieces may cause damage to the internal parts). Be sure installation does not interfere with the operating parts.
  • Replace your showerhead with an ultra-low-flow version.
  • Avoid flushing the toilet unnecessarily. Dispose of tissues, insects, and other similar waste in the trash rather than the toilet.
  • Avoid taking baths—take short showers—turn on water only to get wet, lather, then on again to rinse off.
  • Avoid letting the water run while brushing your teeth, washing your face or shaving.
  • Place a bucket in the shower to catch excess water for watering plants or flushing toilets.
  • Check for toilet leaks. A drop of dye in the toilet bowl should remain for hours. If the color dissipates, then there is a leak. The seal between the tank and the bowl can degrade in five years. Replace as needed.


  • Operate automatic dishwashers only when they are fully loaded. Use the “light wash” feature, if available, to use less water.
  • Hand wash dishes by filling two containers—one with soapy water and the other with rinse water containing a small amount of chlorine bleach.
  • Clean vegetables in a pan filled with water rather than running water from the tap. Reuse that water in the yard or for flushing toilets.
  • Store drinking water in the refrigerator. Do not let the tap run while you are waiting for water to cool.
  • Avoid wasting water waiting for it to get hot. Capture it for other uses such as plant watering or flushing toilets or use the stove or microwave to heat water.
  • Avoid rinsing dishes before placing them in the dishwasher; just remove large particles of food. (Most dishwashers can clean soiled dishes very well, so dishes do not have to be rinsed before washing)
  • Avoid using running water to thaw meat or other frozen foods. Defrost food overnight in the refrigerator or use the defrost setting on your microwave oven.
  • Start a compost pile as an alternate method of disposing of food waste or simply dispose of food in the garbage. (Kitchen sink disposals require a lot of water to operate properly).


  • Operate automatic clothes washers only when fully loaded or set the water level for the size of your load.
  • Use a front load model that is water and energy efficient.
  • Install a greywater laundry to landscape system.

List adapted from FEMA.

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