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Water districts provide incentives for conservation

Southern California developers, homeowners and businesses may be eligible for incentives to install a variety of water-saving measures.

Incentives vary by individual water authorities, but all are administered through the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The latest Regional Residential Rebate program, commonly known as SoCal WaterSmart provides homeowners with incentives to install water-saving appliances and landscaping technology.

Since July 1 when the program was implemented, 15,606 homeowners have applied for rebates, said Lynn Lipinski. Homeowners are eligible to receive $135 towards high-efficiency clothes washers, up to $165 to replace old toilets, $80 per weather-based irrigation controller or $630 per acre, $4 for each rotating sprinkler nozzle and 30 cents per square foot for synthetic turf.

San Diegans may soon be eligible for even more funds for outdoor water conservation in fiscal year 2009, stemming from a pilot program the San Diego County Water Authority is in the process of hatching.

The program would provide additional incentives for customers installing low-water irrigation and drought-tolerant landscaping, said Carlos Michelon, Principal Water Resources Specialist for the San Diego County Water Authority.

The San Diego County Water Authority currently has a similar program in place offering incentives to businesses.

The new program will target water-saving landscaping devices, offering $1 per square foot for irrigation and $2 per square foot to both replace grass lawns with drought-tolerant plants and install water-saving irrigation, Michelon said.

In addition to incentives offered by various water organizations, the city of San Diego offers free audits to business and homeowners in the region.

The city sends staff to customers' homes, analyzes water usage and provides advice about ways to save water including an outdoor watering plan, said Luis Generoso, Water Resources Manager for the city of San Diego.

The city also provides free audits for businesses located on larger properties.

Staffers identify a reasonable water budget for businesses by using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) maps and analyzing the types of plants and soil present.

For builders and developers the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California offers the California-Friendly Homes Program, which provides incentives for installing low-water irrigation and appliances in model homes.

The incentives are slightly greater than those offered for homeowners and are intended to inspire homebuyers to install similar technology in their new homes, Lipinski said.

Developers are eligible to receive up to $2,500 in incentives for the installation of dual flush toilets, high-efficiency clothes washers, weather controlled irrigation and drought-tolerant landscaping.

Individual water districts may provide more or less funding towards the installation of each water-saving device than stated on the Metropolitan Water District's Web site.

In order to simplify the process, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California offers a hotline where home and business-owners can get information about incentives.

Despite the availability of incentives, landscape architects in the area have not seen an increase in demand for the installation of water-saving measures, said Pam Holmfelt landscape architect with pH Exterior Designs. Holmfelt has seen an increase in people interested in installing drought-tolerant landscaping, but few willing to commit to the installation costs.

Even without the incentives, low-water plants save money over time, but many homeowners are reluctant to front he cost of the plants and irrigation, Holmfelt said.

"I think a lot of people are not aware of the incentives and are frightened of spending any money right now," Holmfelt said.

For more information about incentives see go to www.bewaterwise.com and www.20gallonchallenge.com or call (888) 376-3314.

For information about the city of San Diego's free water audit program, call 619-570-1999.

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