West Kern water District's xeriscape project shows that dry can be green as well

To many people, xeriscape landscaping means nothing but rocks and cactus.

It doesn't have to.
The West Kern Water District just completed the first phase of replacing its old, traditional grass and shrub landscaping with xeriscape featuring attractive plants that require much less water.

So long Bermuda, hello lantana, salvia and privet.

It's part of the Water District's ongoing public education about water conservation and a reaction to the new reality in California's water supply and water use regulations.

The idea started more than a year ago.

"The Board had this vision," said WKWD General Manager Harry Starkey. "They could see this emerging trend in Sacramento of regulations questioning the 'right to turf.' They said 'let's get ahead of this and show the public how can convert from lawn and turf to xeriscape.' "

In response to the drought, California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order and now there are limits on the amount of grass in new residential development, a sign of the changes coming in landscaping.

There are limits on the amount of turf that can be planted, Starkey said.

That means a change in landscaping philosophy, and the local project is an example.

It's not just green -- but colorful on top of that with reddish orange and light purple blossoms right now.

The landscaping isn't just ornamental -- it's a public display. It includes walkways, a bench and signs made up by Taft High students that will carry the names of the plants in front of the offices.

It cuts water use dramatically.

Starkey said the plants just installed need about 1/16th as much water as the lawn and shrubs that were removed.

Starkey said it isn't expensive and it doesn't require exotic plants.

"All the plants here are very common, drought tolerant planst. There's no exotics out there."

The first part of the project, covering the front and western part of the office on Kern Street, was designed by Bakersfield landscape architect David Gordon.

The plants were purchased through Amy Stiers and Fertile Earth Nursery here in Taft.

Stiers is going to design the second part on the east side of the office on Eighth Street, where the District just had retaining walls built.

Switching to the drought resistant plants isn't costly.

"It doesn't cost that much to do," he said. It's mainly labor."

Changing from the traditional irrigation system to watering for xeriscape is easy, too.

Starkey said you simply cut the pipes at the valves, install the pressure reducers and the flex irrigation hose.