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It’s no secret … we live in a desert. The lack of rain this past January and the small amount in February reminded me of our region’s dependence on sources outside our county for most of the water we use. And it should not come as a surprise to anyone that the cost of water is rising as treatment and transportation become more expensive. All you have to do is read voiceofsandiego.org, the Union-Tribune or the North County Times to know that water rates are increasing.

But when it comes to affecting how much you are paying for water, there is not much the average citizen can do — or is there?

Did you know that the cheapest source of water is conserved water? For the last 15 years water conservation programs offered by the Water Authority and its member agencies have given our citizens the means to significantly impact our water supply and their water bills. Since 1991, ultra-low-flush-toilet purchase vouchers, water-conserving showerheads, home water use assessments and, more recently, high-efficiency clothes washer vouchers have saved literally billions of gallons of water.

Because there are so few high-water-use toilets left to replace in the county, the Water Authority’s residential toilet voucher program will end its 15-year run on March 31, 2007. But you still have a chance to save a significant amount of water. If you are living in a home built before 1994 and still have to toilets that use 3.5 gallons or more per flush, you can get a voucher for up to $165 for each toilet you replace with a new, high-efficiency toilet. Information is on our website or you can call 1-(800) 986-4538 to see if you qualify for a voucher.

But putting in a high-efficiency toilet or clothes washer is easy. You just install it and forget it, and it just keeps on saving you water every time you use it. Now we are looking to impact water savings by focusing on outdoor water use.

And this is a much harder sell.

Did you know that more than 50 percent of our water is used outdoors? We need YOU to take a hard look at how efficiently you are using water for landscaping and other outdoor uses. We need a major commitment countywide to increase outdoor water conservation in every way possible. This means changing the way we think about watering our lawns. It means a commitment to regular maintenance of our irrigation systems, monthly adjustments to how often and long we are watering, and replacement water guzzling plants with low-water-use plants. The Water Authority is working with its member agencies and the landscape industry to develop programs that will reduce water use in large landscape areas. As that develops, we are looking to our residents to step up to the plate.

What can homeowners do? Check you irrigation system to be sure it’s working properly, not watering the sidewalk or driveway, not over-watering, not going on in the heat of the day, when demand is high and much of it will evaporate. Do you know how to program your irrigation controller? Do you know when it is going on, or how long it runs? You should be adjusting the watering time and frequency at least monthly. Better yet, purchase a smart controller that can sense the weather and adjust automatically to the temperature and precipitation. Consider reducing the amount of unused grass in your landscape and replacing high-water-use plants with low-water use plants. You’ll save water, money and time with these easy-care plants.

The water authority website has a wealth of information on water conservation programs. Need landscape ideas? Check out the Water Conservation Garden at www.thegarden.org!

What are you prepared to do? I’d like to hear from you.

FERN STEINER

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