Out in front

Out in front

Bob Wade, president of CLCA, says contractors need to take an interest in water issues around their area. The future supply and demand of water will determine California's future and economy.

June 14, 2011
Industry News

District water department meetings aren't generally standing room only. So when Bob Wade and other landscape contractors began attending public meetings – meetings that usually never drew an audience - they started raising eyebrows.

In fact, a water department official, who Wade knew, approached him and said, "My boss wants to know what we are doing wrong that we're starting to draw a crowd."

The landscapers were there to hear what was coming down the pike in terms of water policies that could affect their businesses during the drought. That simple action developed into a partnership.

Now Wade, owner of Wade Landscape in Newport Beach, Calif., sits on several water district committees.

"In response to the drought, some states just stopped watering the grass, which adversely affected the community due to tree and surrounding vegetation loss," Wade said. "It also resulted in topsoil loss when winds and storms arrived. Plants and trees are also shelter for surrounding wildlife. They positively alter the environment, reduce carbon emissions, improve air quality, protect the land, provide food, create oxygen and sustain life. We wanted to help our state save water but also wanted to protect our environment and long term future. CLCA has been reaching out to work with our legislators, cities and water districts as a resource to help."

Q. How is California leading the way when it comes to water restrictions?

A. Obviously I'm not a big fan of blanket restrictions. There are lots of ways to conserve water and all of them working together can still maintain the beauty of the outdoors and still provide ecological benefits to our population.

California water departments have had a very aggressive program on rebates for smart controllers and other water saving devices. They discovered quite some time ago that the water they could conserve is cheaper than the water they have to bring in.

Also, here in California the water districts are moving to managing landscape water usage with an assigned water budget. Rather than having plant lists or other types of restrictions, water usage is based on the types of plants, square footage and local weather conditions. It seems easy for a lot of people to say, 'Well, you can't have turf and you can't have hydrangeas," but we believe you can save water and have both with proper water management.

Also, tiered water rates are becoming more popular because they reward those who conserve and penalize those who waste water. In my area, they're becoming really big. The water department in my area is the Irvine Ranch Water District.

Customers receive a grade A through F just like at school. If you're getting As, you're doing quite a good job. They came out and said we don't expect a lot of As, we want people to be in the B range, which is about 90 percent of ET. They have three levels of waste and if you waste you pay more. One of them is very expensive and you pay 10 times as much for the water. So it's the consumer's choice.

What are some other lessons contractors can learn from California?

Don't wait for regulations to come. Get out there and be proactive. And when you hear or see of a group getting together, get involved right at the start.

When California put together a task force to make recommendations on landscape water conservation, CLCA was requested to have an industry representative on the committee. So, CLCA's legislative staff person was assigned to help. However I also noticed there were several work groups that were going to be talking about what the recommendations should be, so I offered to help too. I didn't wait to be asked, and I encouraged a few other members to do the same. You can't wait for somebody else to do it.

CLCA was also proactive in creating its Water Management Certification Program in recognition of our state's water crisis. This program was designed to help the industry meet the need to reduce landscape water usage by certifying industry professionals who could prove they could manage water to an assigned water budget based on landscape, square footage and weather conditions. It is a very inclusive program, carries the WaterSense label and was a winner of a Silicon Valley Water Conservation Award. It took us probably about four to five years to get to the point where it is now and it is a very good program.

Also in California, we have a very strong licensing procedure in the state. The Contractors State Licensing Board was developed to help protect the consumer.

What can California learn from others?

Certification programs are becoming more and more important! I think certification is going to be more and more necessary in the future. They are very rigorous tests, and I always encourage everybody I talk with to get at least one.

I think in the future, the people that are certified are the ones who are going to get the best work. We've already seen that here in the city of Newport Beach. I've seen the specifications for city's parks and recreation bids. They require certified professionals to manage the controllers and to perform site audits.

They don't trust that you're going to do a good job. They require certified people. I think that is going to be the way things go.

Also we need to learn from other states about what worked and what did not when making choices for water allocations, restrictions and regulations during their droughts. We are all part of the whole and our water, our planet, our lands are all connected and we all need to work together to sustain life. There is a lot of experience we can share."