Altman Plants is collaborating with water suppliers, local water districts, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to develop a model for water conservation techniques.
THE PRESS ENTERPRISE: DROUGHT FOR BUSINESSES, IT’S LAWNS OUT, CONSERVATION IN
“Water that seeps from irrigated pots of red roses, pink geraniums and acres of other plants at a western Riverside County nursery adds up to more than 100 million gallons a year.
With drought gripping California, the owners of Altman Plants near Lake Mathews jumped at the chance when water providers offered to pick up half the $900,000 cost of a recycling system at the nursery. Runoff is captured in plastic-lined ditches and reservoirs then pumped to nursery stock grown for Home Depot, Lowe’s and other retailers across the country.
The project, which goes into full operation this week, is an example of what businesses are doing to comply with a state mandate to reduce water use by 20 percent. They are getting help from water districts, which have boosted rebates and loans for tearing out turf, re-using runoff and switching to recycled water for irrigation.
In response, a Jurupa Valley container plant excavated almost six acres of grass in favor of water-wise plants, a Menifee park switched from potable water to reclaimed wastewater for irrigating turf, and the city of Riverside is targeting more than 15 acres of grass in medians.
The Altman project has been one of the biggest for Metropolitan, the wholesaler of imported water for the nursery’s provider, Western Municipal Water District in Riverside. Metropolitan pitched in $350,000 and Western contributed $100,000; the Natural Resources Conservation Service gave $89,000 toward the project.
“It would have been very difficult for us to undertake something like this without the rebate,” said Jim Hessler, Altman’s general manager. “It’s still less expensive (for water providers) than going out and funding a new source of water.”
In the first seven months of this year, commercial rebates issued through Metropolitan’s SoCal Water$mart program were at $13 million, up from $4.6 million in the same period last year, officials said.
The Altman system will cut water use by one-third and save enough water to supply about 780 families in Southern California. It was pricey, but Hessler said the savings on future water bills will pay for the investment in three years.
“We’ve been concerned for some time about long-term water availability and long-term water costs,” he said. “We made sure when we built the nursery eight years ago that it was set up for something like this.”
The concept is simple. The colorful plants, some outdoors and others in shaded tents, are positioned on black plastic in gently sloping rows. They are watered with overhead spray or drip irrigation.
Whatever trickles out the bottom of the pots – it adds up quickly – feeds into 3-foot ditches, then into pipes positioned around each section of the 670-acre nursery.
The runoff is carried to a larger channel and a holding pond at the lowest point of the property, located in Gavilan Hills. Two pumps move 3,600 gallons per minute to a larger, upper reservoir where it is held until needed.
From the reservoir, the water is pumped down, filtered and disinfected, and put back into the system instead of percolating into the ground. The almost 9 million gallons from the upper pond is used in less than a week, Hessler said.
The system was built to capture runoff from a 25-year flood event and make use of drainage from surrounding properties during major storm events, like the recent monsoons that soaked the area, Hessler said.
It also ensures an emergency supply because even a two- or three-day interruption in service would be devastating for the plants, he said. Altman has seven nurseries in five states.
“The timing did turn out to be pretty fortuitous, because it’s going to save us all this water at a time when we really need it,” Hessler said.
GIVING GRASS THE HEAVE-HO
At Metropolitan, the biggest portion of rebates has been for taking out the greatest outdoor guzzler: grass. Each square foot removed saves 40 to 50 gallons of water per year, according to efficiency experts.”
BY JANET ZIMMERMAN / The PRESS ENTERPRISE STAFF WRITER