The Otay Water District will soon choose a winner of its 2016 landscape contest, which seeks out yards that prioritize water conservation and eco-friendly features.
The winners, chosen over the next week or so, are selected based primarily on the yard’s environmentally-conscious features and how much water the homeowner saves.
In 2015, Chula Vista homeowner Nancy Montalvo’s landscape took top honors.
The water district chose Montalvo's yard, in part, because the renovations to her yard increased the property's value.
In 2012, she removed the grass from her front yard and replaced it with drought-friendly succulents, rocks and mulch.
Two years later, Montalvo renovated her backyard with the help of a landscape designer. This added a seating area, stone walkways, artificial grass and native plants.
“The plants I use to have before both renovations – there were many, many plants, many different colors – lasted only a month or two months,” Montalvo explained. “Then they'd die and you'd have to replant and you'd have to go to the store, and all of those things. I don't have to do that anymore. I don't have that kind of worry anymore.”
The new design created a sustainable backyard that, like Montalvo’s front yard, adapts to the character of the neighborhood.
It also serves as a peaceful outdoor living space for Montalvo and her family and friends.
“It's nice to come out here and make the decision, ‘Where am I going to read?’ or ‘Where am I going to play with my little doggie?’” she said.
Montalvo also uses the artificial grass as a play area for her 8.5-year-old Pekingese.
“Preciosa still has an area to relax, to play, so that's nice,” she said.
Thanks to the changes to her landscape, Montalvo has saved about $60 to $90 a month on her water bill over the past two years. More importantly, she has reduced her water usage by more than 50 percent.
“Because the water bill here in Chula Vista has gone up, I think I would have had to pay $175 [a month] on my water bill,” she said.
Water cost in San Diego County has increased dramatically in recent years. In the Otay Water District’s service area, the cost of water has increased 15.7 percent since 2014 and 30.6 percent since 2012.
According to Armando Buelna, Communications Officer with the Otay Water District, the reason is almost entirely due to higher costs for water from wholesale suppliers, as well as the higher cost of energy from SDG&E.
“Otay buys all of its water from wholesale suppliers," said Buelna. "So when their rates go up, as a not-for-profit retail supplier, we're forced to pass those increases to customers."
Recently, Montalvo went further with her water conservation and added a rain sensor for the irrigation controller.
“It automatically knows not to water when you have a recent rain basically, then it turns back on automatically,” said Matt Springer, who builds landscape designs for Western Outdoor Design. “It's something the homeowner doesn't have to worry about.”
For Montalvo, the best part of the renovations is the freedom of not worrying about her yard.
“The peace and tranquility is more than just financial. It is enjoying your environment. I'm really happy having all these native plants. It's not that I spend less time here. I spend more time. But the time I spend is more quality time, simply because I'm not worried about having to do this and that,” she added.
Montalvo also saves a lot of money on maintenance. Before the renovations, a gardener had to work on her yard once a week for a few hours.
Now the gardener only tends to her yard once every six weeks.
Buelna explained the ripple effect of conserving water, and how plants benefit the environment:
“Improved air and water quality; provides shade; helps to keep homes and businesses cooler; reduces/eliminates storm water runoff; reduces soil erosion; provides habitat for wildlife; and adds monetary and intrinsic value to a home and to neighborhoods.”
If you're interested in making your yard more sustainable, the San Diego County Water Authority offers free landscape classes and workshops to help you makeover your yard and save water.
You can sign up, or find ideas and resources for your home, on the Water Authority’s website.