Resident Initiative

Water wise technology changes Southern California’s landscape

In the city of South Pasadena, drought conscious plants dot neighborhood landscapes, sprinklers are turned off until nighttime or do not run at all, and clay rain barrels are gathered beneath rain gutters, hopeful for rain.

This is a stark contrast to April, when South Pasadena was named as one of the highest water users in Los Angeles County. In June 2014 alone, residents used an average of 147.5 gallons of water per day. Debby Figoni, senior management analyst for the city of South Pasadena, remembers the widespread concern for water usage after Gov. Jerry Brown’s 25 percent water cutback mandate.

“It was like spending money from your bank account, but not having a job to put more money back into your account,” Figoni said. “We just kept using water, using water and not putting more water back into our [reservoirs].”

This June, South Pasadena announced they cut their water usage by 30 percent, and the city believes the success comes from residents’ initiative to incorporate new water-conscious technologies. Figoni teaches one of these new technologies weekly by leading free Water Wise Landscaping workshops, which shows residents how to incorporate and maintain drought friendly landscapes at home.

“In some of these other cities, if you get 50 people signing up to take the class, you get about a 50 percent drop out rate,” Figoni said. “If I get 30 people signing up in South Pasadena, I often get 70 people coming to the class.”

The city has also seen an increased interest in water conservation and rebate programs, with many residents opting to conserve water through rain barrels, high efficiency toilets, washers and low-pressure showerheads.

“It’s because the residents care,” Figoni said. “Because they want to make a difference and because they want to do the right thing.”

Residents’ concern for the drought is something that has made South Pasadena programs such as “Tell Your Neighbor Notes” so successful. The new program asks residents to leave a note for their neighbor if they are watering incorrectly or if they have a leak.


“We have very observant residents in watching our neighborhood,” South Pasadena Mayor Bob Joe said. “That’s the success of our reduction in water use.”

Drought initiatives affect residents

More and more residents, regardless of socioeconomic class, have rallied together to adopt water saving technologies or lower their water usage. These drought initiatives can be costly and time intensive, but people in Southern California appear to feel it is the right thing to do to offset the detrimental effects of the drought.

Jason Claypool is one citizen who believes in implementing drought-saving technologies at any cost. Claypool, an architect and California native, recently bought a home in Pasadena with his wife Jamie. The Claypools capitalized on rebates available for conservation tools, retrofitting their new home with gutters, rain barrels and succulents to maximize conservation.

“I would expect we’re not going to save any money,” Claypool said. “It’s more about saving water and thinking about the drought.”

Claypool estimates the water recycling system has cost them over $2,000 for their 1,200-square-foot home, but believes it is the right thing to do.

“It really ends up becoming more about saving water and not about money,” Claypool said.

Claypool’s initiative to adopt new technologies is a crucial step in fighting the looming drought. Government agencies and experts believe the zeal of entrepreneurs to develop new drought-saving technologies and newfound resident cohesion give hope that the state will make it through the drought.

The Business of Saving Water

Entrepreneurs involve Southern California's residents in conservation

Although some local businesses are finding it difficult to survive, others are thriving in the face of dry times. For these new entrepreneurs, the drought presents both a challenge and opportunity. Several new businesses are developing in response to the drought, with innovators making profits as they find ways to help customers cut water usage.

Bill Schaffer, owner of Brown Lawn Green, discovered his opportunity to help Californians save water during a visit earlier this year to Tahoe. After seeing the almost non-existent snowpack, Schaffer mentioned to his girlfriend that Californians would have to start painting their lawns if they wanted they wanted a green landscape this year.

“When I found out how much lawn watering takes, it was kind of a no brainer to form the company,” Schaffer said. "[I want to] to educate people on how to reduce lawn watering in order to save a pretty drastic amount of water.”

Before/After comparison. (Brown Lawn Green)

Watering a 1,000 square-foot lawn for 10 minutes uses roughly 620 gallons of water or 4,000 gallons of water per week. Brown Lawn Green cuts water usage to once a week and uses around 600 gallons of water.

Since its opening five months ago, Schaffer says, Brown Lawn Green has saved Californians over 3,2752,915 gallons of water by affording homeowners the opportunity to conserve without sacrificing curb appeal. His company is in the process of expanding again and he attributes much of the success to people coming together to stop the drought.

“Southern Californians like their green lawns, they want their green lawns,” Schaffer said. “They’ve got an alternative that they can continue to have that green lawn and conserve—that’s our major goal.”

Although Brown Lawn Green opened in the wake of the drought, Schaffer believes his business is a long-term solution to watering in Southern California. The company places an emphasis on homeowner accountability when it comes to water conservation—something that can be achieved through drought education.



“This isn’t just a drought company,” Schaffer said. “This is actually a company that is going to stick around for a long while and help people conserve water in the future.”


With river rocks and grassless yards on the rise, the drought is quite literally changing the California landscape. While many residents cling to the tradition of an authentic green lawn, one local business aims to keep homeowner orchards and gardens fruitful with recycled water.

Greywater Corps in the field. (Greywater Corps)

Architect Leigh Jerrard and a group of Los Angeles artists, landscapers and environmentalists formed a company to advocate for the installation of grey water systems in private homes. The group began Greywater Corps, which promotes the collecting of gently used water from washers, showers and sinks to irrigate gardens.

Joe Madden, managing director for Greywater Corps, teaches workshops to lower income families, so residents of all socioeconomic backgrounds can repurpose their water. Through a variety of scale/cost systems and workshops, Greywater Corps ensures money is not a limitation when residents want to conserve.

“It is expensive to do this kind of stuff for a lower income family,” Madden says. “It’s really important for us to be able to do that for everyone.”

Workshops offered by Greywater teach citizens how to install a grey water system in their own homes if they cannot afford installation by the company.

“Everybody needs to be concerned about [the drought] and act in it,” Madden said.


Water intensive local businesses in Los Angeles County are susceptible the effects of the drought. Local business owners feel they are forced to adapt to drought demands or risk closure. However some, such as the Los Angeles Flower Market, have found ways to make it in their dehydrated world.

Flower Market roses ready for sale

For almost 100 years, the Los Angeles Flower Market has been a hub for more than 50 merchants to sell their wares wholesale to commercial businesses, restaurants, hotels and individuals. Vibrant and plentiful hues pervade the market, but the increased cost of producing flowers and the rise in sale prices means they risk losing their customers.

Jon Teixeira, a vendor who has been selling at the market for years describes how many farmers must endure the expense of digging deeper into their depleting wells for water or face losing everything.

“Some of the farmers—their wells have dried up,” Teixeira said. “They have to actually leave their houses, or abandon their house because without water you cannot live.”

However, successful vendors have adapted to this environmental change by selling drought-tolerant plants, such as succulents and cacti. They find customers are adapting to the change as well.

Harry Mayesh, a local florist at the market has seen an increased interest in drought tolerant plants as opposed to his typical greenery.



“I have had the same clientele forever, they are just changing with the times too,” Mayesh said.

One merchant who only sells succulents and cacti has noticed a surge in young customers. Younger, trendier customers are buying the most drought conscious plants and have created a successful water conservation trend for vendors.

“These plants are popular with young people because people want to be all ‘hip’ and saving water,” he said. “All of a sudden they want to deal with these plants.”

With conservation now in vogue, and for less than $20 per plant, the Flower Market offers a cost-effective way for all customers to participate in water saving technologies.

Greywater Corps Empowers Los Angeles to Save Water


Greywater Corps installs collection systems in Southern California homes so residents can harvest and recycle drain water. Project Coordinator Joe Madden estimates grey water systems save homeowners about 150 gallons of water per day.

The Value of Water | Create infographics

Drought Shaming

Southern California's residents use social media to hold each other accountable

New drought technologies and local businesses have made water conservation possible for all Southern Californians. With a plethora of water conserving technologies to choose from, many residents no longer see an excuse to waste precious water.

Recently, residents have come together to “drought shame” those who violate watering codes or have excessively green lawns from watering. Water watchdogs can shame violators through government drought-shaming Websites, social media and a variety of mobile apps that enable shaming.

Common targets for drought shamming include sprawling celebrity lawns, neighbors with leaky sprinklers, people who spray off sidewalks or parking lots and even waiters who serve water without being asked.

As the drought drags on, Los Angeles County citizens appear to be coming together to put an end to excessive water usage.

“Yes, we have great programs . . . ,” Figoni said. “But it’s thanks to the residents; they are the ones doing the work.”

Published: 2015/08/21