Chula Vistan Recognized for Water-Efficient Landscape


Created: 26 July, 2018
Last update: 27 July, 2022

By Susana Villegas

When people retire from their careers, they usually spend a lot more time at home. They might rearrange the furniture a few times, paint the house, remodel, or clean out and convert the garage. For Chula Vista’s Rosalba Ponce, it was her yard.

She retired from her career as a principal and teacher in the Chula Vista Elementary School District. After 28 years of living in her home in East Chula Vista, she admits that she had not spent much time in her yard.

“It was all grass, roses in pots, and non-water wise plants,” she recalls. It was a typical East Chula Vista 1990s landscape. This is where she began, but she went on to win the 2018 WaterSmart Landscape Contest Best in District for the Otay Water District.

She transformed both her front and back yards into what are now award-winning, low water Mediterranean floral gardens. But how did Ponce, who didn’t know what type of soil she had or what an irrigation valve or filter looked like, decrease her water use up to 38 percent? It all started with the classes and incentive programs offered by the district and its wholesale supplier.

In 2016, Ponce enrolled in a water conservation class sponsored by the San Diego County Water Authority and its member agencies, including the Otay Water District. The WaterSmart Landscape Makeover four-class series helped Ponce develop an actionable landscape makeover plan for her garden. It taught her what she needed to know to plan the type of garden she wanted. She started with the backyard, her first do-it-yourself yard project. By the time she turned to the front yard, she was well equipped to hire a professional landscaper to design exactly what she envisioned.

“I wanted a Mediterranean flower design with a warm welcoming romantic-feel garden. My desire was to create vibrant color to give positive energy and happiness. No cactus or sharp needle plants in the front yard – not good Feng Shui,” she said.
She hired a landscape architect to design it, and she shared the design with her neighbors, who complimented her design by taking action in their own yards. But Ponce wasn’t done yet.

In 2016, she participated in a second San Diego County Water Authority program, the Sustainable Landscape Program (SLP). SLP is the go-to resource to assist San Diego County residents in sustainable landscaping best practices through education and training, technical assistance, landscaping materials, and financial incentives. Within nine months, Ponce completed the transformation of her front and back yards with the help of a $1.75 per square foot incentive to replace approximately 1,200 square feet of lawn with sustainable landscaping. Today, the garden in her front yard is a bounty of camellias, azaleas, agapanthus, Mexican heather, lavender, myrtle, and many other water wise plants that adorn the river rocks, flat stepping stones, a potted palm tree, and gorilla hair mulch paths. The garden is watered by a drip system, two rain barrels, and a rainwater detention area.

“The program gave me the tools to learn about turf removal and opened my eyes to the joy of remodeling my yard,” said Ponce.
Ponce counts three main reasons for transforming her yard. First, “California is a desert. Plain and simple, water equals life. I have always been a conscientious person, not wasting the gifts that we have here in San Diego. I will be able to save thousands of gallons of water each year for our future generations.” Second, she is saving money. “Using less water keeps money in my pocket.” Third, it’s less work. “Being a retired person, I want to ease up on the care of yards, so it made sense to install drought tolerant plants.”

“What Rosalba did to her front and back yards is an inspiration to all of us,” said Mitch Thompson, board member of the Otay Water District and committee member of the Water Conservation Garden Joint Powers Authority. “She did a lot more than create a beautiful, natural garden that welcomes her and anyone who visits her to spend a little more time outside in an impressive, colorful setting. She created a garden that saves her water, saves her money, and helps the entire region meet its future water needs through water efficiency.”

The Otay Water District’s contest committee agreed that Ponce’s landscape is attractive, has a well thought-out design, has efficient irrigation, and demonstrates excellent plant selection and maintenance. The District chose Ponce’s landscape because it stood out among the nineteen candidates across Otay’s approximately 224,000 customers in the communities of Otay Mesa, Chula Vista, Jamul, Spring Valley, Rancho San Diego, and unincorporated areas of El Cajon and La Mesa.

“I am very thrilled with my front yard, especially when neighbors drive by and shout ‘I love your yard!” said Ponce. “It’s a great feeling, and when I entered the contest, it was another way for me to share my story with other people and motivate them to do something that’s going to be good for our world.”

Congratulations, Ponce, on winning this year’s WaterSmart Landscape Contest Best in District award and for inspiring others to do something good for the world and their community right in their own yard.