The 29-home, privately operated HOA built in the early 1990s, had swaths of lush grass in front of houses, between driveways, and along fence lines. Everything was grass, recalled HOA board members John Omvik and Gary Rockow, and residents liked their lawns.
But as drought conditions hit California — then worsened — and the cost of water increased, the water bill for common-area irrigation neared $20,000 in 2014, basically, just to keep the grass green.
“2014 was the tipping point,” Rockow said. “We saw we had to do something.”
Already diligent about finding and fixing leaks, residents had to change their habits. They dialed back irrigation to the bare minimum and started exploring how to replace thirsty lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping.
Working with Scotts Valley Water District, the HOA was able to get rebates for removing turf and converting the irrigation system from sprinklers to drip. These savings helped make the project feasible as a three-year plan phased across the three courts of the HOA.
A landscape designer recommended native plants that are drought tolerant and deer resistant, then created a prototype lot to test the plants. Challenging areas of the property were wholly reworked: steep slopes were terraced with rock walls and low areas already prone to water flow during the rainy season were landscaped into dry creek beds.
“It’s been a gradual change,” Omvik said, noting, “This is more interesting to look at.”
Bees and hummingbirds have taken a liking to the new landscaping, which requires far less maintenance than the old lawns. The HOA is still in the process of reducing water use, as the new plants require some watering to become established, but the water used for irrigation there has dropped to just one-fourth of what it was in 2014.
Piret Harmon, General Manager of Scotts Valley Water District, applauded the retrofit and highlighted the benefit to the HOA members.
“This is a success story for Country Terrace HOA and the Scotts Valley Water District,” Harmon said. “By becoming more water efficient and removing nonfunctional turf, the upgrade is reducing the HOA’s irrigation cost by more than $10,000 annually and saving the District more than 600,000 gallons of water a year.”
Omvik and Rockow are now putting their efforts into helping other HOAs make the transition away from turf. They said the key for them was working closely with the District to ensure they maximized the rebates they received. District Conservation Coordinator LeAnne Ravinale was their primary contact as they worked through the rebate process.
“I think we’re seeing the return on investment in terms of water savings,” Omvik said.
Learn more about rebate opportunities with the Scotts Valley Water District. Email Conservation Coordinator LeAnne Ravinale at LRavinale@svwd.org