This post by Gus Yates is cross-posted from the Davis Enterprise.

With water rates going up, you might be wondering how much your garden is costing you. Don’t worry; there are more alternatives to green than just brown.

Experts on water conservation, drought-tolerant landscaping, energy efficiency and numerous other ways to “green” your lifestyle will host exhibits and answer questions at the Cool Davis Festival on Sunday, Oct. 16, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Veterans’ Memorial Center, 203 E. 14th St.

Irrigation accounts for about half of the annual water use at a typical single-family home in Davis. Studies have found that half of homeowners over-irrigate, while the other half under-irrigate. So the place to start is by checking your own watering practices.

This involves measuring your irrigated area, dividing it by the volume of water applied per irrigation cycle and comparing the result with the plant water requirements.

The irrigation requirement for lawns, for example, is about 1.6 inches per week in July. If you discover you have been over-irrigating, then simply adjust your sprinkler timer and enjoy the savings.

If you aren’t over-irrigating, or you just want to really bring down your outdoor water use, the best thing you can do is to figure out how much lawn you really need and replace the rest with less thirsty plants. You can get plenty of landscaping ideas just by noticing lawn-free front yards as you bike around town. Many people in Davis have already done this.

“It is much more interesting, useful and water-efficient than the old lawn.”

Cool Davis Lite House participants, Maria and Mark Tebbutt, started changing their landscape when they were inspired by their next-door neighbor. “Now we have fruit trees, drought-tolerant plants and lots of birds in a beautiful new space,” they say. “It is much more interesting, useful and water-efficient than the old lawn.”

There are many attractive and interesting shrubs and flowers that use about one-third as much water as lawns do. UC Davis Arboretum volunteers will be on site at the festival with a special exhibit on plants that provide great habitat and forage for birds. They also will share ideas about how neighbors working together can transform a whole neighborhood with their plant choices.

The Yolo County Master Gardener Program is another great source of information about landscaping plants and their water needs. According to Peg Smith, “At last year’s festival we didn’t stop talking about irrigation and plant issues all day long — we are ready to do that again!”

The city of Davis also offers conservation advice on the Public Works Department website:

In addition to reducing your water use, you can increase your water supply. Greywater and rainwater systems are two supply options.

Greywater includes water from clothes washers, showers and bathroom sinks. “Laundry-to-landscape” systems are relatively simple and don’t require a permit. The clothes washer drain hose is connected to a three-way valve that lets you select whether to send the water to the garden or the sewer. In the garden, the water is discharged to mulch-filled percolation trenches. Most plants handle the soap just fine, but you will need to use a sodium-free laundry detergent.

For rainwater harvesting, a very large cistern is needed to supply a significant percentage of your outdoor summer irrigation demand. But a regular 60-gallon rain barrel is enough to keep your house plants and a few salt-sensitive flowers happy all summer.

Folks at the Cool Davis Initiative like to point out that irrigating uses more than just water and money, it also uses energy. All the water we use contains a lot of “embedded energy,” so saving water also saves energy and helps slow down climate change.

The energy content of every gallon of water you use is roughly the amount of energy required to lift it up from 70 feet below the ground to the top of the 150-foot-high water tower on Eighth Street. Imagine carrying all 158,000 gallons per year an average Davis family uses up all those flights of stairs — that’s a lot of energy!

— Gus Yates is the owner of Blue Thumb Household Water Resources, which provides water conservation services in Davis. For more information, visit