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Water management course gaining popularity

A water management certification program, run by the San Diego chapter of the California Landscape Contractor’s Association, is making experts out of some local landscape contractors.

The program recently earned a Water Sense label from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and that stamp of approval means graduates of the CLCA program can benefit from the agency’s advertising muscle. The program is helping expand business opportunities for local contractors, and reducing the area’s water usage to boot.

Certification Manager David Silva said the program has been increasing in popularity as the state’s water shortage becomes more a part of public consciousness.

“We currently have over 500 people working towards certification . With the passage of … (recent water-use reduction regulations) Californians have begun to take water conservation more seriously,” said Silva.

Silva said the CLCA’s certification process places emphasis on real-world experience; each candidate must design, build and maintain a low-water-use landscaping plot for a year to successfully graduate. And that’s not to mention a 50 question written exam.

To be deemed an “expert” water manager, candidates must go even further, maintaining five separate plots for at least a year at 80 percent or less of the designated water budget. Even after a year has elapsed, sites must be maintained continuously in order for graduates to keep their certification current.

The CLCA website touts the benefits of the program as a competitive advantage for contracting firms, now that water auditors have a role to play in the state’s regulatory system.

Water Efficient Landscape ordinances took effect throughout the state earlier this year, and under those ordinances, a certified water auditor must review plans for most new commercial construction projects and residential projects with landscaping areas of more than 1,000 square feet.

As more and more property owners contend with the new regulations, certified auditors will be in demand, Silva said.

Robert Brown, of the eponymous landscaping company based in San Diego, said going through the program has been good for business, even as more companies have gotten into the act.

“I’ve been a certified water manager for about 18 months now. I think I was the fifth person in SD to be certified … but the last two years, it’s really taken off,” said Brown.

Brown says the program is closely monitored, and rigorous. If a candidate gets a lucky break in the form of a rain shower, the accumulated precipitation is deducted from their water budget.

If the weather is cooler than normal, more water is deducted. No free rides from Mother Nature, he said.

He said the program provides a thorough understanding of the various ways that landscape features waste water– and how to make the wet stuff flow more efficiently.

The bottom line of course, is to help property owners get the most out of the water they’re using, and that takes detailed analysis, said Brown.

He said some customers have reacted to mandatory water restrictions by using more water than they really need.

The county’s prescribed limit – 10 minutes per day, three days a week – is plenty for a well managed garden, Brown said, but people still tend to use all the water they’re allowed to.

“They kind of get tunnel vision. They’re like ‘well, I better get my full ten minutes,” said Brown.

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