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Nipomo residents' brown lawns help CSD exceed water-conservation targets

Several homes in Nipomo have brown lawns, like these at the intersection of Tanis Place and Elvira Way. The Nipomo Community Services District is reporting a 32.5 percent reduction in water use for June compared with 2013.
Several homes in Nipomo have brown lawns, like these at the intersection of Tanis Place and Elvira Way. The Nipomo Community Services District is reporting a 32.5 percent reduction in water use for June compared with 2013. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Brown is the new green in Nipomo, where many residents have chosen to let their lawns die in light of the state’s historic drought.

The collective decision to not water lawns has the Nipomo Community Services District celebrating. Last week the district announced that, because of increased conservation efforts by residents, it pumped 32.5 percent less water this June than it had in June 2013 — meeting and exceeding both the district’s and the state’s water reduction targets.

In April, the State Water Resources Board gave the Nipomo CSD, which serves roughly 4,089 residential water connections, a 28 percent target reduction over its 2013 water use, or it would face fines of up to $10,000 a day.

The district board of directors upped its conservation goal to 30 percent over the next five years and simultaneously launched its “Brown is the New Green” conservation campaign.

The campaign and increased public awareness for the drought seems to have helped with conservation, district General Manager Michael LeBrun said.

In June, the district pumped 183.6 acre-feet of water — approximately 59.8 million gallons — compared with 272.1 acre-feet in June 2013, LeBrun said. Most of those savings are from residential customers reducing or turning off their outside irrigation.

“It is odd out here to see a lush green lawn now,” he said. “Most of them are yellowing or brown, or just plain dead. I think nobody wants to get drought-shamed.”

Nipomo resident Darla Budge said the number of lawns on her block that have turned brown has increased significantly in the past three months.

“We’re going brown over here — brown is the new green, you know,” she said. “Some have just let them go, but we have about five on our block that have gone completely what I call ‘the desert look.’ It’s all rocks and bark, like (when) you drive through the suburbs in Vegas.”

Budge said she decreased the number of times she waters her lawn each week from four to once a week. Because she rents the home, she said she felt obligated to keep watering the lawn slightly.

“I do miss the green,” she said, noting that because of the water situation, she has also decided against filling up a kiddie pool she bought for her grandson this summer.

Another Nipomo resident, Denise Santoyo, said she decided to stop watering her 4,000-square-foot lawn entirely because of increasing water bills. But after a few weeks of brown grass in her yard, Santoyo said she became so depressed by the dying grass that she sought out a service that would dye it green.

“It’s just wonderful to see,” she said of her once-again verdant lawn. “I’ve told a bunch of friends about it, and there were two of my neighbors that I suggested it to as well. So far I’m just really, really happy with it.”

Though many homeowners have reduced their water usage by letting their lawns go like Budge and Santoyo, LeBrun cautioned the work isn’t over.

“We need to keep on this thing — wait it out — and when the winter rains come, then we’ll figure out what we want to do with those brown lawns,” he said. “And who knows, some people might decide they want to spend $200 on something other than green grass.”

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