Here's how Long Beach drought-friendly lawn program saved 120 million gallons of water since 2010

LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- Five years ago, Julie Shelton and her husband made a commitment to reduce water use at their Long Beach home.

"Conserving water is huge in California. It just has to be a way of life," she said. "We save about 20% overall but it's about 40% for the landscape."

The Sheltons tore out their grass lawn and replaced it with native and California friendly plants. The result: A remarkable before and after.

Their 2,500 square foot, professionally designed, front lawn is now, not only great to look at, but also a habitat for birds and butterflies with an efficient irrigation system that captures storm water and reduces runoff. The Sheltons credit the Long Beach Water Department's Lawn to Garden program for helping them get it done.

"For us in Long Beach, using water wisely is a way of life. It's a lifestyle," said Anatole Falagan, the department's assistant general manager.

The need now is greater than ever in California. In 2021, we saw the driest June in 127 years in L.A County.

The Long Beach Water Department's efforts are paying off. More than 3.6 million square feet of water-guzzling turf have been replaced with water-wise landscapes since the program's inception in 2010 - saving more than 120 million gallons of water.

The program reimburses homeowners as much as $3 per square foot for labor and materials and pays a portion of the cost for a landscape designer.

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The Water Department is using its own property to showcase what a water-wise landscape could look like.

"We're using about the same water that we were back in the '60s and that's with 40% more population in the city of Long Beach," Falagan said.

The Water Department also encourages restaurants to install water-saving devices. So far, some 70 eateries have done so, joining the Certified Blue Restaurant Program that gets them featured on the city's social media platforms and during annual city-wide events. Steelhead Coffee is among them.

"We use billions of gallons of water a year here in Long Beach and if we can cut that to a fraction by doing small things, our efforts all come together and you know change the numbers. I think that's really important," said Melanie Larsen with Steelhead Coffee.

Another effort: a new Long Beach Water Department pilot program retrofits roughly 1,000 multi-family units with water efficient plumbing fixtures and appliances. The cost? It's all covered by grant funds.

"We change out the shower heads, we change out the toilets. We change out the washing machines and dryers and stuff like that and what that does is that it saves an incredible amount of water," Falagan said.

Meantime, the Conservation Corps of Long Beach is converting lawns to gardens in underserved neighborhoods, hiring and training local at-risk youth to help.

For the Sheltons, the process and the end result are a win for them, their city and the environment.

"It's an A+. It's fabulous," Shelton said.

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