Save Our Water, Ojai!

March 2018, by Renee Roth, Rainscape Designs

Over the past several years, the State of California and especially the Citizens of Ojai have confronted the harsh reality of climate change: we are living in a drought and we face the very real possibility of running out of water. Areas in California have suffered from severe drought’s in the past and, despite seasonal rains, this extended drought looks like it could be the “new normal”.

The Ojai, Ventura, and Santa Barbara communities affected by the extended drought have been galvanized to take dramatic action. Starting in January, 2014 Governor Brown proclaimed a State of Emergency:

“We can’t make it rain, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California’s drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas,” said Governor Brown. “I’ve declared this emergency and I’m calling all Californians to conserve water in every way possible.”

In the State of Emergency declaration, Governor Brown directed state officials to assist farmers and communities that are economically impacted by dry conditions and to ensure the state can respond if Californians face drinking water shortages. The Governor also directed state agencies to use less water and hire more firefighters and initiated a greatly expanded water conservation public awareness campaign (details at More info here

The Ojai Valley Green Coalition (OVGC) began discussing the water security issues we face in the Ojai Valley (i.e. no hook-up to state water, economy dependent on tourism and agriculture, two large golf courses) with a focus on how to use the water we do have more efficiently.  In March, 2016, we developed a mission, vision and overview for the Save Our Water, Ojai! campaign (SOWO):

“Our water Security Program Mission: to catalyze a community wide and collaborative watershed approach to saving and retaining water in residential, commercial and public landscapes. The Coalition strives to advance the water security of the Ojai Valley by promoting and sharing knowledge, resources and opportunities to encourage water saving practices needed to convert a high-water-use landscape into a beautiful, water-efficient one.”

The SOWO campaign was started based on a successful OVGC greywater pilot project funded by City of Ojai, the Rotary Club of Ojai and Nutiva Foundation. The greywater pilot project included a neighborhood tour of existing greywater systems, an indoor class on the why, what and how of greywater and a hands-on installation of a greywater system for an Ojai resident (owner paid for materials, grants paid for teachers; workshop attendees provided labor). The SOWO campaign took this model and expanded it to include other educational techniques and several water-wise landscaping features, with a focus on rainwater capture and storage, sustainable landscaping techniques, and water use efficiency. Initial grant funding came from the City of Ojai, Southern California Gas Company and AquaFlo with additional grant funding from Ventura River Water District.

To kick-off the SOWO Campaign, the coalition invited speakers to talk about residential water use, our water supplies and ways to save water in our landscapes.  Below is a description of the kickoff event on May 26, 2016.

Living with Drought:  Politics, Science & Practice
with Tom Ash, Senior Environmental Resources Planner; Steve Wickstrum, General Manager of Casitas Municipal Water District; and Russ Baggerly who sits on several local Boards addressing water and related issues.
When:  Thursday, May 26, 2016 from 7 to 9 p.m.
Where:  Ojai Presbyterian Church
Description:  Local
experts talk about our climate history, our water future and what we can do about it. 

Following this talk, the OVGC held two workshops in 2016 to help residents focus on how save water in their landscapes: first, we demonstrated the use of greywater; second, we demonstrated the removal of turf and installation of rain gardens to capture rainwater.  Presentation materials and handouts were provided to give examples and do-it-yourself instructions.  Information on those two classes is below.

Water Saving Landscapes: Greywater 101-Laundry to Landscape Workshop
When:  Saturday, June 18, 2016
8:45 am with a classroom presentation
, landscape tour and site evaluation. 

Description:  Greywater systems are especially important in times of drought and can greatly reduce outdoor water use. Come learn how to reuse laundry water, a popular greywater system, including
 design considerations, water saving potential, costs, regulations, health and safety, soaps and products, and plants that are a good match for home and landscape. A guided tour of an existing installation along with a workbook with helpful resources was included.

Rainwater Harvesting Workshop: Class time and Garden Tour

Date: Saturday, November 12, 2016
Location: OVGC Resource Center and Ojai Garden Tour Site Close By
Time: 9:00 am to 12:00 pm
Description: This program is for the homeowner who Wants to install a rain garden, but is not sure where to begin. The program included simple “do-it-yourself” projects can maximize the homeowner’s ability to capture rain for reuse! Topics included how to save water, money and make a home sustainably beautiful!

Topics include rain harvesting, berms, swales and native plant rain gardens. Harvesting rain is an effective and easy way to conserve water. Find out how berms, swales and native plants combine to create rain gardens. Participants learned how and why rainwater harvesting is a valuable asset to any landscape.  They also Received step by step instructions on how to perform a site analysis, create a simple design, choose appropriate plants and take the steps necessary to install a rain garden!

As part of its public information campaign,  OVGC provided  literature/promo information during the Ojai Day celebration. Renee Roth and coalition volunteers provided information on such timely topics as:

  • Water supplies related to the Ventura River Watershed, with maps and statistics;
  • Information on what native plants do well on low water (Seed packets of annuals were handed out);
  • Information on how to install a gray water system.

The promo flyer for Earth Day April 2017 is attached below.

In cooperation with Ventura River Water District, OVGC organized a Reimagine your Landscape class in September 30, 2017, with experts in greywater, rainwater, efficient irrigation and site evaluations to check irrigation run times and look for leeks.  The promo flyer is attached below.

Water saving tips were prepared on a book mark and the SOWO web page with resources and recordings of past events to help residents continue learning about how much water they use, ways to check for leaks and water wise landscaping practices that can help homeowners transition to using less water (irrigation checks, using mulch, native plants etc.). The coalition is also working on Sustainable Landscaping Guidelines for the Ojai Valley in cooperation with Ventura Water. These guidelines are based on the support from Tree People and the City of San Jose, along with the following resources:
G3 – Green Gardens Group – Waterwise Landscaping Books
Beverly Hill Garden Handbook
San Diego Sustainable Landscaping Guidelines
LA County Drought Tolerant Handbook
G3 – WaterWise Landscaping Materials
Simple Rain Garden Recipe
Plan Your Project Prepare a Site Plan
Six Elements of the California Friendly Landscape
Sprinkler to Drip Retrofit
Water Wise and Sustainable Landscaping Resources

City of San Jose
Program of State Of California SAVE OUR WATER 
Watersmart San Diego PPT
Greg Rubin Landscaping with CA Natives in San Diego in Pacific Horticulture Magazine

**Link to Tom Ash presentation on May 4, 2016 at the Ojai Retreat*