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Parched California Finds Clever Ways to Save Water

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBC Bay Area
    A pond in the South Bay runs dry due to California's severe drought. Californians have found some ingenious ways of coping with the severe water shortage.

    California communities are finding some ingenious ways to cope with the state's severe drought, one of the worst on record.

    Their ingenuity comes as the severe shortage, now in its third year, puts increasing pressure on residents to save water.

    Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency, and last month, tighter restrictions went into effect on washing cars or trucks, cleaning driveways and sidewalks or using water fountains. New swimming pools in could be next in line, as Orange County considers a plan to prevent new pools from being filled.

    As the drought drags on, here are a few of the more ingenious responses.

    COLOR ME GREEN

    There's a way to turn lawns green without watering them. A Los Gatos-based company called Green Canary uses a green, water-based coloring to transform brown, parched lawns.

    The company had been working on foreclosed homes in California’s Central Valley, greening the lawns to make the maintenance easier and to keep criminals away, said its president Shawn Sahbari.

    Now, his business is expanding to include other clients, though Sahbari said the service has not taken off, even if it is in the spotlight because of the drought.

    “Obviously, this is a hot topic, because of the drought and the cost of water and people trying to conserve,” Sahbari said.

    The Almaden Valley Athletic Club in San Jose is among its clients, prompted by its members' concerns about conservation.

    “It provides immediate water conservation,” Sahbari said. “That's immediate savings, and that's immediate transformation.”

    The club’s general manager, Jeff Griffith-Jones, said Almaden Valley Athletic Club tried the method on one patch of grass and likely will use it on others.

    At first the coloring looked unnaturally green, but it faded quickly, he said.

    “It looks quite natural,” he said.

    CASH FOR GRASS

    Cities and towns across California are offering cash for grass to encourage homeowners to replace their water-guzzling lawns. 

    Long Beach calls its program Lawn-to-Garden and pays $3.50 for every square foot of turf removed.

    “We don’t want people to just take out the lawn,” said Joyce Barkley, the city’s water conservation specialist. “We want them to replace it with a beautiful garden.”

    Some possible replacements, she said: sage, blue fescue, rosemary, lilac, lavender and olive trees.

    "We have big hurdles," she said. "A lot of people love their lawn so it's just a challenge."

    DIRTY CAR CHALLENGE

    Ventura is urging car owners to skip washing their cars for the month of August with its “Don’t Wash Your Car” challenge.

    The city is asking residents to post photos of their filthy rides on the Ventura Water Facebook page.

    Among the photos: a no longer quite white Honda that has not been washed in four months and an electric Fiat with “Save H2O” written in the dust on the rear window.

    Last month, the three vehicles that earned the most "likes" won complete professional car details. Professional car washes use far less water than do-it-yourself washes at home, county officials note. 

    WATER WITCHES

    Some California farmers are turning to dowsers, also called diviners or water witches, to search for wells. Water scientists scoff at the method saying dowsers just get lucky. But dowsers, who typically use branches or metal rods to find underground water, say business is booming.

    One well-known name is Marc Mondavi, of the Mondavi winemaking family, who works as a dowser on Saturdays.

    “I’m busier than a bird dog,” Mondavi said. “I’m backlogged.”

    With the drought stretching on, the wait for a driller can be up to six months, he said.

    Mondavi said that he had found more than 150 wells and another 25 to 30 scheduled to be drilled. To skeptics, he points to his record. Most farmers are believers, he said.

    “They won’t drill a well unless they get a dowser in,” he said.