One San Diego couple’s yard is certainly worth admiring: their drought-friendly landscape has just won a big contest.
Bonita homeowners Barbara and Nick Amalfitano are the new winners of the Otay Water District's 2016 landscape contest.
The changes they've made to their front and back yards over the years have reduced their water usage by 78 percent, and reduced their maintenance significantly.
The couple’s property is three-quarters of an acre and looks more like a park than a model for water efficiency.
“Even when we cut all of this away, you still have this grass-like succulent here, and it looks like a thick meadow of grass,” said Barbara describing her yard.
Richard Namba, Senior Water Conservation Specialist with the Otay Water District, says when you're shopping for succulents, you should know the size of the plant at maturity, so you don't plant them too close together.
“If you put the plant in the right spot, you should never have to prune a drought tolerant plant,” Namba explained. “When you cut drought tolerant plants or prune them, they don't look very good, so what you want to do is plant it far enough away from a sidewalk or driveway or house wall, so it can grow."
In determining a winner in the landscape contest, the water district also looks at a yard's design, including the colors and textural diversity.
One aspect of the Amalfitano's yard that was especially appealing to the district is a stream bed made entirely of rocks that runs the entire length of their driveway. The stream bed also provides what's known as a bioswale, a depression in the landscape that collects water.
“The goal now in sustainable landscape is to keep the water on your property as long as possible," said Namba.
One way the Amalfitanos are doing that is by harvesting rain water with rain barrels scattered around their yard. In the process, they took advantage of the Metropolitan Water District's rebates on rain barrels (the rebates are currently available).
In 2010, the Amalfitanos were one of the first South Bay families to take advantage of the Otay Water District's turf rebate program (which is no longer available).
They received $2,000 for their front yard under the program, and that's about how much it cost to renovate the area.
The following year, they upgraded their back yard.
“One of the things we wanted was fresh herbs, and that’s right back here. We have the parsley growing right now, and some rosemary growing. So we have great Thanksgiving dinners here," said Barbara.
At the time, the district also provided the services of a landscape designer to help families with the renovations.
“It was somewhat labor intensive, but very well worth it when it was finished," said Barbara. "We really hated to see ourselves using all that water, letting it all go down the drain. Plus, grass is beautiful, but this is so much nicer to enjoy. The flowers are great. It just made sense to us."
The Amalfitanos also installed an automatic pool cover several years ago, upgrading the one that was there when they moved into the home in the 1990s. The retractable cover reduces heat loss and the need to refill the pool every week.
“When it's closed, there's absolutely no water evaporation,” said NicK.
In January 2015, the Amalfitanos extended their energy savings inside their home. They leased solar panels for $131 a month through SunPower, and signed up for SDG&E's net metering program.
“The leasing company maintains everything for 20 years and we have a locked in rate,” said Nick.
At the end of the year, they actually got money back on their electric bill, and applied it towards their natural gas bill.
“It's probably the best investment I've ever made, without a doubt,” said Nick.
Two months ago, the couple made another investment and installed argon-filled, double-pane windows.
“We've reduced our carbon footprint dramatically, and couldn't be any happier," said Nick told NBC 7. “I'm trying to think what the next thing is we could do.”
SDG&E's current net metering program is set to end in July. The utility company's new incentives will cost a little bit more, and there will be a fee to connect the solar panels, but a spokesperson says changes to the net metering program will be minimal.