Businesses take steps to reduce water use April 06 2015

Cemeteries and golf courses are struggling to limit the brown patches and keep their trees alive. Landscapers and nurseries are trying to educate customers about drought-tolerant alternatives to vast stretches of lawn. Homebuilders are dealing with rules requiring drip lines around new construction.

All over California, businesses big and small are reacting to the ongoing drought, and to the statewide water-use reductions ordered this week by Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor’s order follows emergency water-use restrictions imposed on businesses in March by the state Water Resources Control Board.

Many business owners say they’ve already taken significant steps to reduce their water use. Brown’s order contains few specific directives to business; it merely says they have to cut water use by 25 percent over 2013 levels, just like other urban water users.

Brown did, however, specifically mention golf courses, cemeteries and other “institutional properties” to make sure it’s understood that they’re covered by his order, too.

Sacramento’s East Lawn Memorial Cemetery has already altered its manicured landscape to accommodate the drought. Since 2013, East Lawn has been watering less and, wherever possible, planting rock gardens and drought-resistant plants.

But the cemetery’s management also knows families generally want to see nicely tended lawns when they pay their respects at a relative’s grave.

“The green grass is what they expect when they come to visit their loved ones,” said Lisa West, marketing director at East Lawn, which owns cemeteries in East Sacramento, on Greenback Lane and in Elk Grove. “We have a responsibility to our families to keep the spot pristine.”

West said East Lawn expects its water usage to drop 65 percent compared with 2013, well beyond what the governor ordered, but the reduction has come at a price. A few trees have died, and there are some brown spots on the lawn, she said.

Some landscape companies are keeping busy taking out people’s lawns. Among other things, Brown’s order calls on state officials to develop financial incentives so homeowners can replace lawns with “drought-tolerant landscapes,” especially in “underserved communities.”

Many homeowners already are moving in that direction, said Chris McKoy, of Chris KcKoy Landscape in Roseville.

“A lot of them are tearing out the yard and doing drought-tolerant,” McKoy said.

At the same time, he said, some customers are plowing ahead with new lawns. Either way, his business hasn’t dried up.

“People are still doing stuff,” he said. “I’m literally booked out six weeks.”

Brown’s directive says all newly constructed homes and buildings must rely on drip irrigation or “microspray systems” for landscape use. Homebuilders said they believe it’s a regulation they can work with.

“There are definitely sprays that use less water than others,” said Tim Lewis, president of Roseville homebuilder Tim Lewis Communities.

Lewis said the drought restrictions may prompt some homebuyers to rethink their entire approach to landscaping. “I would think less lawn,” he said.

Lewis said his company has installed artificial turf at some homes, but it’s more expensive than the real thing.

Despite the drought, one water-related business reports that it’s faring surprisingly well. Sacramento swimming pool contractor Mike Geremia said potential pool owners remain undaunted by the prospect of filling a pool with 15,000 gallons of water or more.

Customers “are calling us left and right,” the president of Geremia Pools said. “The market is very solid.

“Did you know that swimming pools use less water than a lawn?” he added. “We can get out there and show people we’re water savers.”

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