Drought prompts homeowners to remove lawns

FRESNO, Calif.

The Department of Public Utilities said more than 60 percent of its water is used outdoors. Now that it's finished installing residential water meters last year, homeowners are taking measures to conserve water, including tearing out their grass in favor of a more Fresno-friendly garden.

Central Fresno homeowner Linda Stiles is doing her part to be "water wise" during the drought.

"Well, I'm killing my lawn. I started about a month ago," she said.

Her plan is to swap out her traditional turf for a more drought-resistant landscape.

"I'll start planting cactus and succulents for the summer, things that will survive," she added.

While her transformation isn't yet complete, she said she's already conserving cash and water.

"Just this last month I've saved about $25, so it was nice to see that extra money," said Stiles.

Not to mention the $50 a month she said she used to pay a landscaping service to come and cut the grass.

It's efforts like hers, the Water Division at the Fresno Department of Public Utilities said is contributing to an overall reduction in the city's water usage.

"Consumption is down and I believe people are getting the message about how precious water is," said Water Conservation Supervisor Nora Laikam.

Since 2008, the city's water usage has dropped more than 20 percent, despite its growth in population.

She said part of that is contributed to the installation of more than 100,000 residential water meters, which made families more aware of their consumption and the rates they're paying for the precious resource.

Knowledge of its conservation programs also grew, especially now the drought is a major concern.

"We have landscape experts on staff who are master gardeners, certified arborists who can come out by appointment and look at your landscape and help you design what you might want as far as water-wise landscape," she said. "We also have staff that can not only look for water leaks, but we can also help them set the timer (on their sprinkler systems)."

Free services, homeowners like stiles said they're seeking out -- as they uproot their lawns in exchange for a new landscaping norm.

"One little yard makes a difference I think," said styles.

Even though water usage is down, the city is encouraging families to continue conserving water.

In January, Gov. Jerry Brown called on all Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent. And in March, Fresno's Department of Public Utilities released its spring watering schedule.

Those who live at addresses ending in 1,3, 5, 7 or 9, can water on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday. Those at even numbered addresses can water on Wednesday, Friday or Sunday. All homeowners are asked not to water on Mondays or between the hours of 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.

To learn more about water-wise landscapes, Fresno State is holding a "Plant Event" on May 3rd at the University's Horticulture Greenhouse from 8 a.m. to noon. Master gardeners will be available to answer questions, and attendees may receive free water-wise plants depending on availability. For more information call (559) 621-5480.

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