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Conserving water to save salmon in California

Before landscape changesBefore landscape changes.

One of the main missions of NOAA Fisheries Service’s Southwest Region is to protect endangered and threatened salmon. Since one of the biggest threats to salmon in California is a lack of water in the streams and rivers in which they spawn, water conservation is very important to ensure their survival.  Southwest Region employees all do what they can to conserve water, but some take it to a higher level. Chris Yates and Chris Fanning, from the regional headquarters in Long Beach, Calif., have replaced their lawns with drought tolerant plants to help reduce their water consumption.


Saving Water

“Landscaping is one of the largest water uses in Southern California,” said Yates, the Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources. “We all need to do our part to conserve water.  A bright green yard is not the best use of our resources.”

Yates and his wife decided to make over their yard after they purchased a house in Long Beach, shortly after moving to the area. 

Just after landscape changesJust after landscape changes.

“We quit watering it, and within a couple of weeks, the grass turned brown and died,” Yates said.  “Then, we got rid of the grass and planted a variety of drought-tolerant plants.” 

Most of these plants, he said, were types of cactus, as well as a category known as succulents. Yates said one of the nicest things about getting rid of the grass is that he doesn’t have to mow it. 

“We don’t really have to do anything to it,” he said.  “All we have to do is water it maybe once every two to three weeks in the summer when it’s dry, but we don’t water it at all in the wet season. We just put it in and let it grow.”

The idea has caught on among his neighbors, too. 

“Our next door neighbors took out their yard, and other people are doing the same,” said Yates.

Saving Money, Too

Fanning, a business and industry specialist in the Sustainable Fisheries
division who lives in Garden Grove, Calif., also opted for water-

Creek collecting water from the yard during a storm. One-year later. Creek collecting water from the yard during a storm. One-year later.

friendly landscaping as an alternative to a traditional lawn.

“Reducing our water bill was an added bonus,” he added.

When deciding what to plant in their yard, Fanning said he and his wife wanted the plants to be not only drought-tolerant, but also native to Southern California. They hired a designer from a local non-profit organization called Back to Natives Restoration that assists people with yard projects like Fanning’s to promote landscaping with native plants and help fund habitat restoration projects

They started consultations with the designer in spring 2009 and began the planting in the fall.  In the interim, they designed what Fanning refers to as a “dry creek” that runs across the property. 

“The rain gutters drain into it, and it flows throughout the length of the yard.  Sometimes it fills up in a heavy rain,” he said.  Another advantage of the dry creek, he added, is that it keeps storm water on the property, so it doesn’t become runoff that could potentially carry trash and toxic chemicals to the ocean.

It wasn’t long, Fanning said, before everything started to grow and thrive.

One-year later. One-year later.

“We’ve had two fairly wet winters,” he said.  “We’ve actually had to cut stuff back because it was growing so fast.”

Once the plants started blooming, they began attracting wildlife. “We’ve been seeing a lot more butterflies and birds than when we had the grass,” Fanning said. 

While most of his neighbors were supportive of his efforts, Fanning said he once received a notice of violation from the city for having “overgrown weeds in excess of 18 inches.”

“After receiving the notice, we contacted the city to let them know what we were doing and why, and we never got another letter after that,” Fanning said.  “Some people scoff at the idea, but most others think it’s unique and interesting.  People always ask questions, and most of our neighbors enjoyed watching the progress as we put the native plants in and let them grow.
“We hope to be an example for others, showing that you can have beauty and flowering plants at a fraction of the water cost,” he added.