Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the rebates are available to homeowners in unincorporated areas of the county. San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande and Nipomo are the only communities that are eligible for the rebates.
As extreme drought conditions persist, state conservation officials are giving rebates of up to $999 to homeowners who design their homes to capture and use rainfall to irrigate their gardens.
Homeowners looking for a good example of rain-friendly gardening that is open to the public can visit UC Cooperative Extension’s demonstration garden, just north of the extension’s office on Sierra Way in San Luis Obispo.
“It’s all about managing rainwater where it falls,” said Nicole Smith, conservation programs manager with Coastal San Luis Resource Conservation District in Morro Bay. “Especially right now with the drought, when it does rain you want to be prepared.”
Money for the rebates comes from a $264,347 grant from the state Water Resources Control Board to the conservation district administering the program. The district hopes to administer some 80 rebates from 2014 to 2016.
The rebates are available to residents of San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande and Nipomo. Three workshops will be held in April for homeowners wanting to learn more about the program.
Called “Storm Rewards,” the program focuses on two water-saving techniques: capturing rainfall and using it for irrigation on site and installing paving blocks that allow rainfall to soak into the ground.
Both techniques reduce the amount of polluted runoff that would otherwise wind up in storm drains and creeks.
Typical rain-friendly projects that homeowners can undertake include installing rooftop rain catchment systems that either collect rainfall in rain barrels or cisterns or direct it to gardens.
“Yards can also be graded to direct rainfall toward the garden,” Smith said. “A lot can be done with soil by changing how water infiltrates and directing it to where you want it to go.”
A 600-gallon cistern and two 100-gallon rain barrels have been installed at the Cooperative Extension garden in San Luis Obispo. They are only fed by rain that falls on the roofs of two large storage sheds.
“One rain event is enough to fill the cistern up,” said Cindy Horney, a master gardener who designed the rain collection system.
The water in the tanks is used to irrigate the many plants found in the garden, ranging from fruit trees to drought-tolerant plants such as lavender that are perfect for water-starved San Luis Obispo County.
“Being drought-tolerant doesn’t just mean cactus,” Horney said. “You can have a little color and save water at the same time.”
The county and cities, such as San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande, are also using rain-friendly practices as part of their policy to promote low-impact development guidelines that reduce storm water runoff, Horney said.