Sunday, November 23, 2014

Kate Spirgen

Kate Spirgen

Features

Stepping up to the plate

2014 Leadership Awards

Richard Restuccia took his passion for smart irrigation and used it to change the water game.

October 13, 2014

When Richard Restuccia started talking about water management in the 1980s, people were a lot more interested in pumping costs and power than they were in the actual water. But as drought hits the country and environmentalism gains popularity, the green industry is starting to think about smart water management.

Restuccia has a joke that he uses a lot as a speaker. “I say, ‘I’ve been talking about water management and sustainability for 17 years and I’m no more interesting today than I was 17 years ago.’ But people are calling me a lot more and wanting to hear what I have to say and I think it’s just because people are waking up to the water situation and the awareness is getting bigger,” he says.

Growing up in the desert of Arizona, Restuccia loved heading out to the desert lakes for skiing, swimming and fishing. Now living in the San Diego area, he loves to surf and swim, and spends weekends working with his wife in the garden, so water is a big part of his life, both in and out of the office as ValleyCrest’s director of water management solutions.

Restuccia got his start doing irrigation on a cotton farm and saw first-hand just how much water it took. That’s when he really started to consider changing the way we use water. “That’s when I really started to think about water management and how it affects our lives,” he says.

A few years later, he started working at Rain Bird and saw the opportunity to change the way people think about irrigation and how they can use their water in a smarter way. “It wasn’t a matter of applying water. It was more important, I thought, to manage it effectively, not only to save water but for plant health as well,” he says.
 

Putting why before how.

Restuccia is a communicator at heart and his passion for proper water usage is starting to spread. Water issues are coming to the forefront of the industry. People are ready to listen and he is getting the word out there with digital tools.

“His passion of networking through social media and blog postings is something that is new to our industry,” says Eric Santos, ValleyCrest division leader for irrigation and water management. “He really deserves a lot of the credit for the marketing ValleyCrest does specifically to water management. Many people talk about using social media, but he actually gets it done.”

Restuccia saw a need to talk about the why of water management to get people interested in the how and so he started blogging at ValleyCrest Takes On. “Most people’s water bills aren’t very expensive and they think that water is just a public service,” he says. “It’s just there and I don’t think that people really have an awareness. So when we come in and talked about water management – well if there was no awareness, we couldn’t be very effective.”

The blog has really taken off. It took three years to build 100,000 unique visitors but in the last month alone, they’ve gotten 10,000, and his Twitter handle, @H2Otrends, has nearly 1,400 followers. “I think (the blog) is the core of what has led to his success because it just continually puts out new messages every week,” says Alan Harris, a fellow ValleyCrest Takes On blogger. “It’s one of those things that spreads just from people being exposed to it and hearing about it and you don’t lose the people that you talk to early on. It just adds up.”

 

Leading Ladies

There are two women that have been instrumental in Restuccia’s successes over the years. They’ve helped him with his blog, taught him about plants and inspired him to excel. And they aren’t even on the payroll.

Restuccia’s wife, Devonna Hall, is a master gardener who has taken him to countless gardens and has spent hours teaching him all about plants, soil and water. “She has taught me most of what I know about horticulture and really challenged me to better my knowledge about plants and design so I don’t just think the solution to water efficiency is technology in irrigation,” he says. “She has been supportive of my work, and more importantly, a source of new ideas and inspiration for many of the articles I have written. I am so lucky to have her in my life because I learn something new from her every day.”

His daughter, Lauren Proctor, has helped Restuccia with digital marketing and spreading the word. In fact, information she supplied to Restuccia ultimately became his proposal for the Valley Crest Takes On blog. “She is a wealth of consulting information for any of the digital marketing I do. Lauren provides hours of free and very valuable advice on how to spread the word about how to maximize efficient water management,” he says.

Restuccia is now lining up speaking engagements months in advance, but he still wakes up every day with the same goal: to get the word out and save water. It’s one of his biggest strengths and he loves to do it. “He loves being up in front of a crowd. It’s really in his blood,” Santos says.

His hope is that in 10 years, he can look back and be proud of the work the industry has done as a whole: landscape contractors, water agencies, manufacturers and irrigators. He and the ValleyCrest team have had some great successes over the years and he believes that it’s the blending of science, technology and design that will get results.

“I really hope that I can look back and say we’ve been able to really create some synergies that allowed us to have made a big impact on the amount of water people are using in the landscape as a result of that,” he says.
 

Building a team.

Restuccia has had his share of mentors when he started out, and he’s never done learning. Even after 17 years of talking water, he’ll call up Travis Bridges or Dave Palumbo, who trained him at Rain Bird, for product information and troubleshooting. He’s got a good team at ValleyCrest as well. He and Harris edit one another’s blog posts and every week, he learns something new from Eric Santos.

“I feel very lucky that I have a huge resource of people to call that will help me,” Restuccia says.

Restuccia is paying it forward and helping others spread the word about good water management. A few years ago, ValleyCrest created the position of regional irrigation advisor to meet the rising demand, and to educate clients. Santos and Restuccia were getting spread too thin and so ValleyCrest created regional position to coach clients about smart water use. As Harris says, “They’re little Richards.”

Rather than just focusing on the right technical experience, ValleyCrest puts an emphasis on communication skills that they can bring up to speed on the more technical aspects. They look for “someone who tends to have the traits of someone like an Alan or a Richard,” Santos says.

That teamwork is one of Restuccia’s favorite parts of the job, and he says the people a big part of the reason he stays in the industry. “We’re always looking and willing to share our ideas to be more efficient about the water we use. And I really enjoy that. It really does feel like everyone is pitching in.”

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