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This summer, I spent two weeks in Fresno teaching Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper (QWEL) training to members of the California Conservation Corps and Local Conservation Corps (Fresno Chapter). It was a very rewarding experience.  QWEL is an EPA WaterSense certification program to educate landscapers about low-water design, management, and irrigation practices.

WaterNow Alliance became a QWEL Professional Certifying Organization in 2015, and has been partnering with the Local Government Commission since then to develop and help facilitate the Water-Energy Community Action Network – San Joaquin Valley (WE-CAN-SJV). This pilot program is intended to reduce outdoor water use in the Central Valley, and particularly in disadvantaged communities. You can learn more about our work with LGC on graywater installations here.

WE-CAN-SJV was particularly excited about teaming up with Rachio, a water tech company specializing in smart irrigation controllers. Rachio generously provided their devices for free, with installation and on-site water audits, to any Fresno resident interested in participating. Smart controllers use weather-based information to control watering schedules and are able to save up to 30% more water than traditional irrigation controllers.

There’s no question that there is a need for more of these programs – Rachio was quickly overwhelmed by requests for controller installations. As of September 2017, they had received 1,200 online requests for controllers! WE-CAN SJV quickly realized that they could benefit individual homeowners and create local jobs by partnering with the Local Conservation Corps (LCC) and the California Conservation Corps (CCC) to train young adults in water efficient landscaping and smart irrigation installation. This work force would then be able to handle part of the increased demand from the smart controller program while receiving valuable job training.

This cohort of young adults presented a unique challenge for WaterNow to customize the QWEL curriculum for students who had limited hands-on experience in the field. Terms like “water budgets” and “soil amendments” were new to many of them. However, our students rose to the occasion. Over the course of the training, they mastered the basic concepts of water efficient landscaping before diving into the complexities of water budget calculations, planning hydrozones for optimal water efficiency, and a number of other essential skills. They did all of this with extraordinarily positive attitudes and a unique desire to understand and apply the material. Approximately 80% of the students passed the challenging course requirements to become Qualified Water Efficient Landscapers. Working with the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, these crew members are now performing smart controller installations as well as landscape upgrades on properties around Fresno.

I was so pleased to be a part of such an incredible project where the hard work and dedication of a host of actors – non-profits, private sector, and government entities – were able to come together to create measurable results in order to promote Fresno’s sustainable water future.

 

Lindsay is WaterNow Alliance’s Program Associate and is certified as a Qualified Efficient Landscaper.

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