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Cher Gilmore | How to Save Water and Money, Too

SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
SCV Voices: Guest Commentary

Our big rains are over for this year, most likely to be followed by several years of scant rainfall, and it’s not too soon to begin thinking about how to conserve the water that we do get. 

The Santa Clarita Valley Water agency estimates that our valley gets about 17 inches of rain every year, on average, and is currently offering some additional rebates to customers who want to make the most of it. 

They’ve had a lawn replacement program for a few years, which pays homeowners for replacing their lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping and upgrading their irrigation systems, but some new features have been added. 

Homeowners who qualify for the lawn replacement program can now get additional rebates for using plants native to California; for including bioswales, terracing, or rain gardens in their landscaping project; and/or for installing a bee hotel or owl box on their property. 

Native plants are smart to use in our generally dry climate, because they’ve adapted to soil and weather conditions here over many years and thrive on limited water. And there are over 6,000 species to choose from! 

A link from SCV Water’s native plant fact sheet illustrates some plants native to Santa Clarita, as compiled by the California Native Plant Society. 

These include the California poppy; California fuchsia; California primrose; white, black and purple sage; Southern honeysuckle; chaparral mallow; golden yarrow; grape soda lupine, and many others that are readily recognizable. 

Besides being attractive, an added bonus is the fact that these plants provide habitat for important pollinators and promote wildlife biodiversity as well. 

Since Santa Clarita’s soil is high in clay, it normally takes a long time for water to be absorbed. Adding rain gardens to the landscape can slow down water movement and give it the opportunity to soak into the soil, which reduces runoff. 

A rain garden is a depression in the soil, planted with vegetation — preferably native plants — which captures and absorbs rainwater runoff from rooftops. 

A bioswale is similar, but is in the form of a planted channel that slows water flow and allows it to infiltrate into the soil — often used along streets or sidewalks. Rain gardens and bioswales, along with constructed terraces, filter pollutants and help replenish our groundwater supplies. 

Owl boxes and bee hotels add to the overall picture and help create a balanced ecological environment. 

Barn owls and screech owls, among seven species of owls that live in Santa Clarita, primarily hunt rodents like gophers, mice and rats at night. Inviting owl families into your yard with an owl box is an effective way to keep undesirable pests out of your shrubbery, rather than using poisons that harm the environment and other wildlife. And there’s little chance of harm to songbirds, chickens or pets. 

A bee hotel is a natural partner for native plants in a drought-tolerant landscape. Native pollinators are essential to the health of California native plants, and bee hotels provide places for solitary bees and other pollinators to make their nests. 

Fortunately, many bee species native to SCV are solitary, don’t swarm, and rarely sting, so their presence is not a threat to children or pets. 

For SCV residents who aren’t homeowners or don’t necessarily want to participate in the lawn replacement program, installing a rain barrel or two connected to rain gutters and downspouts is an effective way to collect water for irrigation or to water indoor plants. 

A home or building with a 1,000-square-foot roof will produce about 600 gallons of runoff for each inch of rain received, and some of it can be collected in rain barrels. A barrel could also be used to collect air conditioner condensate during the summer months.  

All of these are pilot programs being tested at SCV Water, so now is the time to check them out! 

Most of them are tied to the lawn replacement program, but not all, and each one offers a sizeable rebate. 

For example, a rebate on a rain barrel is up to $75, with a limit of two per water meter. At Home Depot, a 50-gallon rain barrel made of 100% recycled plastic is $132, but with the rebate would be $57. 

For more detail on all of these water- and money-saving pilot programs, go to 

To find information on exactly how to connect rain barrels and how many you need, go to and search for “rain barrels” to locate the downloadable files. 

We do have a water problem — either not enough or too much at a time — but we can each be a part of the solution. By being good stewards of our own little piece of the Earth, we can contribute to an ecologically balanced environment for everyone. 

Cher Gilmore is a member of the Santa Clarita chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which is in turn part of the SCV Environmental Coalition. 

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