Greywater Seminar for Homeowners and Design Pros

GREYWATER SEMINAR for homeowners and design professionals
June 4, 7-9pm, Los Altos Library, 13 S San Antonio Rd, Los Altos, CA 94022

Save water, money and get a rebate by reusing water at your home. Learn about simple laundry to landscape greywater systems as well as more complex systems. Three greywater professionals will share their experience and knowledge on every aspect from the plumbing modifications to plant selection and irrigation decisions. Sign up for hands-on workshops at end of the seminar. As a special bonus, Paul Kephart from Rana Creek, designer of Academy of Sciences green roof will present innovative and beautiful greywater options for residential and commercial installations.

Deva Luna, EarthCare Landscaping
Forrest Linebarger, VOX Design Group
Paul Kephart, Rana Creek

Sponsored by GreenTown Los Altos, Los Altos Hills Water Conservation Committee, Acterra, Santa Clara Valley Water District, Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, Purissima Hills Water District, CalWater
Questions? Contact Kit Gordon

Speaker Bios:
Deva Luna, Manager, Horticulturalist and Principal Designer, EarthCare Landscaping. Deva Luna has a degree in ‘Plants and Art’ from U.C. Davis, as well as continuing studies in Permaculture, Landscape Design, and Edible Gardening. She is also a Master Gardener, lecturer, credentialed teacher, certified greywater installer and Bay Friendly Landscape Designer.

Forrest Linebarger, CEO, VOX Design Group: A graduate of UC Berkeley, Forrest has spent decades committed to sustainable design and building.  He has created environmentally sensitive designs that are cost competitive with conventional construction.  He is nationally known for his design of zero energy homes, use of green roofs, and innovating means of creating healthly indoor air environments.

Paul Kephart, President, Rana Creek. Paul is one of the country’s foremost ecological authorities on green roofs, living walls, and watershed management systems. A trained biologist, he has a profound understanding of natural processes and sustainability, and how they impact developed landscapes. With almost thirty years of master planning, architectural design, landscape design, and project management, Paul uses art, ecology and science to reclaim natural resources  Paul is the creator of the Green Roof for the California Academy of Sciences and numerous other world-class projects.

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Springer and Blach Win 2014 Greenest Schools Challenge!

At Bullis Charter School with Naveen and Ashwin Mukergee and Agent Langone

At Bullis Charter School with Naveen and Ashwin Mukergee and Agent Langone


The 2014 Drive Less and Greenest Schools challenge has ended with Springer Elementary taking top honors in 2 categories: Greenest Elementary School and School Community Award. Springer WoW parent volunteer Kacey Fitzpatrick did a fantastic job signing up parents to support their children’s efforts. It paid off with Springer having more than double the number of registrants of its nearest competitor. A true testament to parental influence, their kids won the Challenge with 65% of Springer students Walking or Wheeling to school on May 7.

Blach again won the Middle School challenge with 70% of kids choosing to WoW to school. From the looks of traffic in the neighborhood, WoW day is every day for Blach students! Way to go Blach Falcons!!!

Loyola continues to make steady strides in its WoW program again winning “Most Improved Elementary School” with a huge jump from 39 to 59% Walking or Wheeling to school. WoW parent volunteer Azar Silver is a rock star of creativity who implemented the DriverLess License to encourage Loyola students to WoW daily during the 2 week challenge. Kids who WoW earned stamps for each day and prizes on Bike to School day.

Agent Langone and the Van Sligter Family at Oak

Agent Langone and the Van Sligter Family at Oak

Thank you to all the WoW parent volunteers, encouraging parents, teachers, and principals for your participation and enthusiaim. Overall WoW commuting is up 7% across the district. Keep up the good work!

A special shout out to Chief Tuck Younis and the LAPD bike patrol officers for supporting the WoW program, and especially Agent Ryan Langone, who cheered on the kids to WoW to school during the Challenge.

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Move Over Letterman. GreenTown’s Top 10.

Top Ten Reasons to Replace Your Lawn with Native Plants

We can start with the benefits that replacing lawns with at least some native plants has to all of us and bracket that with it being a fantastic way to blunt the drought. Less water. Less maintenance. The benefits are numerous and here’s more specifics:

Native gardens can make you a neighborhood stuperstar!

Native gardens can make you a neighborhood superstar!

1. Healthier Creeks. Fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are top polluters in our creeks, killing aquatic life and spreading disease. Lawns should be at least 50 feet away from waterways but even at that distance, these pollutants will still find their way into our creeks.

2. Less Storm Water Runoff. Deep roots of native plants and trees surrounded by mulch retain more water onsite than turf, and substantially more than synthetic turf.

3. More Free Time. Lawns can take as much time to manage as vegetable gardens, and what do you harvest? Grass clippings, blech! Native plants don’t require fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides and benefit only from annual or semiannual pruning. Not sure about how to maintain your landscaping? Hire a Certified Green Gardener.

4. Save Water. Lawns require more water than our climate can provide. Irrigation of lawns accounts for the largest single use of residential potable water, water that may have been transported hundreds of miles to your home. Reducing our draw of water from the Delta and the Sierras helps maintain their ecosystems.

5. Save Money. All the mowing, fertilizer, herbicides and irrigation of lawns cost a lot of money. Native plants need substantially less effort and money to maintain.

6. Cash for Grass. Santa Clara Valley Water District will pay you up to $2000 to replace your lawn. Contact SCVWD or your water company for details.

7. Good Bugs, Not Bad Bugs. Mosquitoes in our dry summer? There must be a lawn nearby. Frequent watering creates tiny pools just right for mosquitoes to breed. Native plants attract good bugs and birds, ones that eat mosquitoes and other pests.

8. Biodiversity. Other than hardscape, there isn’t a more inhospitable surface to biodiversity than the monoculture of lawns. With your excess time and money freed up from lawn care, buy yourself binoculars. You’ll be amazed with the variety of birds, insects and wildlife that native plants attract. Native wildlife evolved with native plants and they depend on them for survival.

9. Less Greenhouse Gases. Manufacture and transportation of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and mowers has a substantial carbon footprint. Transportation, pumping and treatment of water requires energy. When you save water, you also save energy!

10. Smart Choice. Landscaping with plants that are native to our climate is a smart choice. If you want soft areas for kiddies to roll in, native grasses come in all three flavors: seeds, plugs and sod.

Questions? Contact Kit Gordon .

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Inspiring Action Has A Benefit: Gratitude.

Every six months, in November and May, with Kathleen Santora at the helm, GreenTown Los Altos pulls together a team of people to orchestrate one of our most rewarding events: the ReCycle Bike Drive.

GTLA 3.14 recycle tk u joseIt’s really simple. You have a bike you don’t need, use, want or are looking to give away but don’t know where to go. The ReCycle Bike Drive is the place. We’ll tune it up and find someone who will appreciate it, more than you realize. In fact, we can pretty much guarantee you will make someone smile.

GTLA 3.14 recycle tk u juan

At the last ReCycle Bike drive, we collected >50 bikes and gave them to students in our local community, particularly at Los Altos High School and Castro Elementary.  All the students were grateful for the generous donation, as you can see from the notes they wrote. Sunday, May 4 is our next ReCycle Bike Drive where we collect bikes, spruce them up, do an inspection, and fix any issues before giving the bike to a deserving student.   Over the past 2 years we have collected almost 200 bikes.
GTLA 3.14 recycle tk u jackie

GTLA 3.14 recycle tk u danielThanks to those volunteers at the semiannual event and people like you, who help someone smile.

Need more motivation to give? Below are thank you noted written by some owners of last year’s bike drive. If you gave, this is for you. If you haven’t, it feels so good, you’ll want to help collect the bikes (OK, we’re projecting, but we can always use the help!).


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Call for Entries: GreenLight Film and Fashion Festival

Think you have the next great 5 minute video idea? Now’s your chance to strut your stuff, Greenlight Film and Fashion Festival call for entries: deadline Fri. March 28.

Welcome filmmakers!
Greenlight 2014 offers a fun new challenge for filmmakers. Your 5-minute or shorter video must address one of the following topics using comedy, animation, drama, fiction, documentary, clay-mation, stop-motion or a combination of film genres and techniques.

Entry categories are: middle school, high school and open (all others).

$1000 in prizes will be awarded.

Films or video submittals must be 5 minutes or shorter, or a 5-minute excerpt of a longer film. Potential film producers must choose from 1 of the designated environmental topics listed:

1.      Role models

2.      Lessons from the past

3.      Changing climate change

4.      Be the inspiration

5.      Environmental justice

6.      Pick a law

7.      Pollution and health

8.      Who is exposed?
For more details about submitting your short film or video, visit film entries will be judged by a panel of experts in various related fields. Finalists will be announced at the festival in Cubberley Community Theater.

Eco-Fashion Designers
Make something new from something old!  Reuse is one way to reduce waste which conserves resources.  The purpose of the eco-fashion show is to promote the idea of reuse:  take used clothing or any used materials and making them into a new, wearable fashion. Re-fashion is gaining in popularity as more people adopt a more sustainable lifestyle by reducing waste, reusing and recycling. 

How to participate in the GREENLIGHT Fashion Festival:

Register for the Festival

1. Take a photo of the materials you will use in your re-fashion design. Remember, your eco-fashion must be made of at least 80% of used materials.

2. Create your new fashion. You, or someone you may choose, will be modeling the fashion on stage during the awards ceremony.

3. Take a photo of your finished fashion.

4. Submit your photos by going to and click on Submit.

For fashion show questions contact, or call (650) 329-2434.

The Film Festival will be broadcast live on local TV stations.
Locals, friends and family members are welcome to attend the Festival. It will be held on April 24, 2014, 7:00 – 8:30pm. Admission is free!

Do research, be creative, have fun and enter the 2014 Greenlight Film and Fashion Festival!

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Master Gardeners’ Fast and Easy Drought Tips

Santa Clara County’s Master Gardeners offered up fast and easy tips for conserving water and with the drought upon us, well, we think you may want to see what you can do to help the problem for us all:

1. Prioritize Your Plants: first, determine which plants are most susceptible to water stress. High on your watering list should be plants that are valuable in terms of replacement cost, prominence in the landscape and enjoyment.

  • High Priority- trees and shrubs (especially those that are young and planted in an exposed site). Large, mature shade trees and shrubs can be left alone unless the drought is severe and the trees begin to wilt, or the root systems have been recently disturbed.
  • Medium to high priority- perennials, fruit and nut trees, small fruits and vegetables; turf that is less than one-year old.
  • Low priority- annual flower and herb plants, ornamental grasses, established turf. These are relatively inexpensive and easily replaced. It may be difficult to keep large beds of annuals adequately watered during a drought

2. Apply 3-4” of mulch around plants to keep weeds down, conserve soil moisture and moderate soil temperatures. Make sure the mulch is 3-4” away from the trunk/stem of the plant to prevent rot. Mulching minimizes evaporation of water from the soil surface, reducing irrigation need by around 50%.

3. Control weeds around shrubs, vegetables and flowers. Weeds can out-compete cultivated garden plants for water and nutrients.

4. If purchasing new plants, research those that are low water users. All plants require water to become established (CA Natives included) but there are some that are bigger water guzzlers than others.

5. When possible, add organic matter (compost) to your soil. This will improve the water-holding capacity during dry weather and promote good drainage during wet weather.

6. Irrigate early in the morning. Less water loss occurs from evaporation and wind drift in the morning because of cooler temperatures and less wind.

7. Use a broom to clean driveways, sidewalks and steps. Using a hose to push around a few leaves and scraps of paper can waste hundreds of gallons of water.

8. Don’t fertilize or, if you do, do so with a low nitrogen fertilizer. Fertilization stimulates growth and increases water needs.

9. The type of soil you have largely determines how often you should water: Clay soils may only need to be watered once during a given period while sandy soils may need two or three waterings during the same time.

10. Avoid runoff and puddling by spacing out, or cycling, irrigations. Let the sprinklers run for 10 minutes then shut them off for 10 minutes, allowing the water to absorb into the ground.

Another good source for tips can be found on a Los Altos Patch post, citing Sheri Osaka’s 10 tips to save gallons of water.

Do what you can. Every drop saved is one we can all tap into later.

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Rain Dancing Between Your Drought Tolerant Plants

by Kit Gordon

The best way out of this drought is not a rain dance but a change of behavior. Get a landscape rebate by switching your lawn to low water plants. Or just let your lawn brown and replant a beautiful biodiversity garden with California native plants next fall. Grow your own fruits and vegetables with a reuse system. Attend our June 4, 7pm greywater seminar at the Los Altos Library to get all the facts about greywater systems. The Santa Clara Valley Water District will pay you $100 to install a laundry to landscape system.

Get out and enjoy the rain! Just think, if you only had installed that rain catchment system… GreenTown will host a rain catchment seminar in Fall 2014.

Questions? Contact Kit Gordon


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Styrofoam is History in Los Altos!

Four years ago, a group of GreenTown Los Altos volunteers started canvassing local restaurants to join the GreenTown Co-op in order to offer the more environmentally friendly compostables for take outs and left overs. The idea met with limited success for a variety of reasons.  Mainly, most business owners did not want to change their current practice.  GreenTown’s team realized that until there was a town ban on Expanded Polystyrene (Styrofoam), the task of changing behavior would be a tough uphill battle.

Flash forward to Jan 14, 2014

On Jan. 14, 2014 the Los Altos City Council voted to ban EPS from restaurants, retail shops, and events starting July 4, 2014. The second fourth of July where the Council has shown its forward thinking by enacting policies supporting “freedom” from old school, environmental killing, products.

The approval of the EPS Ban marks a great change in behavior within Los Altos.  Already 2/3 of the restaurants do not use EPS in their business operations and the other third just have 1 or 2 products that need to be changed to a compostable product, 6 of the 9 retail establishments sell EPS material on the store shelves and none of them foresee an issue with removing these products. Most vendors at events have anticipated the ban and already have compostable replacements lined up.

Within a short period of time, our town is changing behavior regarding environmental issues.  To think single use plastic bags and expanded poly styrene are soon to be relics of the past, opens up a new world of creating sustainable behavior for a better earth.  A change everyone connected with GreenTown Los Altos is happy to see.

For more details about the EPS ban, check out the San Jose Mercury News and Los Altos Town Crier articles for related news articles.


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Drought’s Silver Lining: Solar Panels Look Hotter Than Ever

Homeowner Joseph Adler had been in his Cuesta Drive home for a year, when he and his wife toyed with the idea of doing more than just a “standard” energy upgrade of better insulation and installing LED lights. With double pane windows already in place, along with a good furnace, solar panels seemed like the way to go.

They chose a company with a unique business model: one that uses volunteers, not employees, for actual installation. The non-profit company, SunWork, uses professional staff for planning, getting permits and managing all aspects of the installation. In addition, a team of volunteers works on the installations.

Project manager, Matt Thompson, on the left, with the two volunteers, Hamid Saadat and Tom Kabat. Photo credit:  Mike Balma

Project manager, Matt Thompson, on the left, with the two volunteers, Hamid Saadat and Tom Kabat. Photo credit: Mike Balma

Who are these volunteers? Men and women with better than average mechanical skills who either want on-the-job training, are curious about the process or simply want to be involved with an environmentally conscious company.  Thus, SunWork, a non-profit that works on small systems with an average electric bill of under $130 per month, can pass those savings through to their customers.

According to Joseph, his cost was about $3/watt, compared to a more typical price of $4.50/watt.  After the tax credits, Joseph’s cost was closer to $2/watt.  Based on his family’s energy consumption, that means he will have free energy in just 6 years, paying only the PG&E grid connection fee of <$5/month, which is why he insists, “It is irresponsible not to put in solar panels in this area”.

Mike Balma, Development Director of SunWork noted, “We have installed 15 solar systems in Los Altos with more on the way.  Los Altos now has the highest number of installations for us.  We recently completed our 100th system and we appreciate the local support from our volunteers and from homeowners in moving to a renewable energy future.”

If you have sun on your roof, what are you waiting for? We may have a dearth of water, but the sun is still coming on strong and that translates to savings you can literally bank on.




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Stop Dripping! Whip Your House Into Drought Tolerant Savings

Drought Declaration : Here’s what you can do.

Unless you live under a rock, you know that California is in an unprecedented drought. Gov. Brown has asked for an immediate 20% reduction in water use. The drought is so dismal, that even a miracle March will not affect this year’s supply, which means status quo on water is history and every Californian needs to take action to produce lasting sustainability for our state.

Our economy and environment depend on our ability to use this precious resource wisely. In Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, 50-70% of water use is used on irrigation of plants that are not suitable for our environment. The most egregious is turf.

“People need to live within their hydrologic reality,” said Barbara Vlamis, of AquAlliance which exists to “defend Northern California waters”.

Landscape conversion programs are the best means of water conservation. Santa Clara Valley Water District Directors, Brian Schmidt and Linda LeZotte, recommend doubling water conservation rebates to encourage sustainable behaviors. Residents can receive $4000 or more for replacing turf with more California friendly landscapes and upgrading to efficient irrigation systems.

Beautiful pallets of climate suitable plants are possible for replacing lawns. Residents around the state are realizing the multiple advantages of native plants over the monoculture of turf: less water, less maintenance, less creek-polluting fertilizer, greater biodiversity, greater sustainability for all. Don’t be the last water-waster on your street with a lawn.

Water supply and treatment is very energy intensive. Over 30% of the energy used in California is specifically to move and treat water. Conserving water results in energy conservation and reduced green house gas emissions.

Water Conservation Tips Abound


  • Never pour water down the drain when it can be reused (eg: used to water plants or garden or for flushing toilets.)
  • Repair dripping faucets by replacing washers.  One drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water per year.
  • Check all plumbing for leaks and have any leaks repaired by a plumber.
  • Retrofit all household faucets by installing aerators with flow restrictors.
  • Install an instant hot water heater on your sink, running water until it’s hot wastes water.
  • Insulate your water pipes to reduce heat loss and prevent them from breaking.
  • Install a water-softening system only when water minerals may damage your pipes. Turn the softener off while on vacation.
  • Choose appliances that are more energy and water efficient.
  • Check your well pump periodically. If the automatic pump turns on and off while water is not being used, you have a leak.
  • Avoid purchasing recreational water toys that require a constant stream of water or installing ornamental water features (such as fountains) unless they use re-circulated water.
  • Consider rainwater harvesting where practical.
  • Contact your local water provider for information and assistance. Sign up for a Water-Wise House Call to learn more about water conservation.


  • Plant native and/or drought-tolerant grasses, ground covers, shrubs, and trees. Once established, plants adapted to your local climate do not need water as frequently and will survive dry periods without watering. Small plants require less water to become established. Group plants together based on similar water needs.
  • Install irrigation devices that are the most water efficient for each use, such as micro and drip irrigation, and soaker hoses. Use subsurface or Netafim systems for lawn areas.
  • Use mulch to retain moisture in the soil and keep soil cool. Organic mulch also improves the soil and prevents weeds that compete with landscape plants for water.
  • Check your sprinkler system frequently, adjust so only your landscape is watered, not the house, sidewalk, or street.
  • Repair sprinklers that spray a fine mist. Most misting issues result from a pressure problem, properly regulating pressure in an irrigation system will prevent misting.
  • Check sprinkler systems and timing devices regularly to be sure they operate properly and do not leak.
  • Raise the lawn mower blade to at least three inches or to its highest level. A higher cut encourages grass roots to grow deeper, shades the root system, and holds soil moisture.
  • Plant drought-resistant lawn seed. Reduce or eliminate lawn areas and replace with climate suitable plants.
  • Avoid fertilizing your lawn. Applying fertilizer increases the need for water.
  • Turn irrigation down in fall and off in winter. Water manually in winter only if needed.
  • Invest in a weather-based irrigation controller—or a smart controller. These devices will automatically adjust the watering time and frequency based on soil moisture, rain, wind, and evaporation and transpiration rates. Check with your local water agency to see if there is a rebate available for the purchase of a smart controller.
  • A heavy rain eliminates the need for watering for up to two weeks.
  • Check the soil moisture levels with a soil probe, spade or large screwdriver. You don’t need to water if the soil is still moist. If your grass springs back when you step on it, it doesn’t need water yet.
  • If your yard requirez watering, do so early morning or later in the evening, when temperatures are cooler.
  • Water in several short sessions rather than one long one, your plants will better absorb moisture and avoid runoff.
  • Use a broom or blower instead of a hose to clean leaves and other debris from your driveway or sidewalk.
  • Avoid leaving sprinklers or hoses unattended. A garden hose can pour out 600 gallons or more in only a few hours.
  • In extreme drought, allow lawns to die in favor of preserving trees and large shrubs.


  • Install a new water-saving pool filter. A single back flushing with a traditional filter uses 180 to 250 gallons of water.
  • Cover pools and spas to reduce evaporation of water.


  • Consider purchasing a low-volume toilet that uses less than half the water of older models. Note: In many areas, low-volume units are required by law.
  • Install a toilet displacement device to cut down on the amount of water needed to flush. Place a one-gallon plastic jug of water into the tank to displace toilet flow (do not use a brick, it may dissolve and loose pieces may cause damage to the internal parts). Be sure installation does not interfere with the operating parts.
  • Replace your showerhead with an ultra-low-flow version.
  • Avoid flushing the toilet unnecessarily. Dispose of tissues, insects, and other similar waste in the trash rather than the toilet.
  • Avoid taking baths—take short showers—turn on water only to get wet, lather, then on again to rinse off.
  • Avoid letting the water run while brushing your teeth, washing your face or shaving.
  • Place a bucket in the shower to catch excess water for watering plants or flushing toilets.
  • Check for toilet leaks. A drop of dye in the toilet bowl should remain for hours. If the color dissipates, then there is a leak. The seal between the tank and the bowl can degrade in five years. Replace as needed.


  • Operate automatic dishwashers only when they are fully loaded. Use the “light wash” feature, if available, to use less water.
  • Hand wash dishes by filling two containers—one with soapy water and the other with rinse water containing a small amount of chlorine bleach.
  • Clean vegetables in a pan filled with water rather than running water from the tap. Reuse that water in the yard or for flushing toilets.
  • Store drinking water in the refrigerator. Do not let the tap run while you are waiting for water to cool.
  • Avoid wasting water waiting for it to get hot. Capture it for other uses such as plant watering or flushing toilets or use the stove or microwave to heat water.
  • Avoid rinsing dishes before placing them in the dishwasher; just remove large particles of food. (Most dishwashers can clean soiled dishes very well, so dishes do not have to be rinsed before washing)
  • Avoid using running water to thaw meat or other frozen foods. Defrost food overnight in the refrigerator or use the defrost setting on your microwave oven.
  • Start a compost pile as an alternate method of disposing of food waste or simply dispose of food in the garbage. (Kitchen sink disposals require a lot of water to operate properly).


  • Operate automatic clothes washers only when fully loaded or set the water level for the size of your load.
  • Use a front load model that is water and energy efficient.
  • Install a greywater laundry to landscape system.

List adapted from FEMA.

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