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SUPER SAVER FEW PARTICIPATE IN WEATHER-BASED TIMER REBATES.

Byline: JUDY O'ROURKE Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA -- Water companies have tried to persuade homeowners to save water with rebates for costly weather-based lawn timers, but cheap water seems to be a spoiler.

Since the Newhall County Water District began offering the rebate six months ago, fewer than 30 of its 9,500 customers have chosen to participate.

``The cost of water when compared to other utilities -- including the cable bill we all pay -- is comparatively a lower-cost item,'' said Steve Cole, the utility's general manager. ``It seems a higher priority to save money than water.''

``Smart sprinklers,'' which irrigate precisely based on need, can save lots of water -- up to 20 percent of usage. Residents with an average of 2,500 square feet of landscaping could save 72,000 gallons of water a year.

But for most, the $200 to $700 price tag on the high-tech sprinklers outweighs $50 in annual savings on the water bill.

The utility's customers pay tiered rates, ranging from 80cents to $1.30 for 748 gallons of water. Prices fluctuate with the seasons.

The water district offers a maximum rebate of $240 for each home. The utility is working on a plan to rebate the controller's full cost with help from the state's Department of Water Resources, which funds the rebates.

For the past year and a half, the utility has required developers to install the weather-based controllers in landscape medians. Studies show runoff is cut by 71 percent when the devices are installed.

In December, Santa Clarita began operating a solar-powered electronic weather station, which transmits information to a statewide database. Sensors measure air temperature, wind speed, relative humidity and sunlight.

Information about how often and how long to water each day will eventually be available online, and consumers may learn to save at least 30 percent of their water use, said Tom Hawes, water conservation program coordinator for the Castaic Lake Water Agency.

Timers in smart sprinklers measure how much water is lost from the soil through evaporation and during photosynthesis, and those that combine the information with data from the California Irrigation Management Information System automatically ensure each watering cycle is timed just right.

About six months ago, the Valencia Water Co. said it planned to offer rebates for customers who replace their existing timers with smart controllers and participate in a water-efficiency survey, but the plan is still being worked out, said Bob DiPrimio, the utility's general manager. He said the utility is trying to find ways to provide the CIMIS data to its customers so they can conserve water.

``Valencia wants to work cooperatively with other water purveyors to offer consistent programs to all customers,'' he said. ``We still have to do the cost analyses to determine what is the break-even point between the benefit and cost for the program,'' he said.

He echoed Cole's sentiments about the challenge of inspiring people to save water when it's so inexpensive.

The utility will supply water to the 21,000-home Newhall Ranch project, planned for west of the city and spreading to the Ventura County line.

``We will require the developer to implement conservation-minded programs with the very first house,'' he said. Smart controllers, low-flush toilets and energy- and water-efficient appliances are being considered. DiPrimio said builders have found these energy savers can end up saving them money.

``We've been impressed with Lennar's willingness to consider these programs for their new homes planned throughout our service area,'' he said.

The utilities plan to partner with the city and businesses and homeowner associations to reduce water use. The biggest culprits are non-native plants and overwatering, DiPrimio said.

judy.orourke@dailynews.com

(661) 257-5255

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Tom Hawes, water conservation program coordinator for the Castaic Lake Water Agency, shows off a device that helps determine how much water is needed for plants in the area depending on the current weather conditions.

David Crane/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 5, 2007
Words:653
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