Malibu Couple Slashes Water Bill by 70 Percent

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Malibu couple Jill and Tony Greenberg cut their water bill by 70 percent — from $1,000 to $300. Jill explained that she had to give up her dream of a picture-perfect English garden, and the couple has redesigned their garden with more drought-tolerant plants.

New data from Los Angeles County Waterworks District 29 proves that Malibu residents are not shying away from doing their part toward water use reduction. 

The goal for the district is to have each household cut back water use to 64 percent of the average use in 2013, meaning some households are tasked with huge reductions and others are already on track. In the first billing cycle, Malibu and Topanga residents reduced an average of 24 percent — not exactly up to the goal amount, but a strong statement about Malibu and surrounding area’s renewed commitment to cutting back. In contrast, last year, District 29 was only able to cut one percent.

The Malibu Times caught up with one Malibu household who far exceeded a 36 percent cut. Jill and Tony Greenberg, who have lived in their home on an acre of land for over 20 years, received a request from District 29 with a staggering number: They must reduce their household’s water use by 70 percent in order to meet the 36 percent average reduction threshold.

“The enormous motivation came when we got a letter from the water department saying we had to cut back by 70 percent,” Jill said. “We thought at first it must be a mistake, then we spoke to some friends and kind of tore our hair out and wrung our hands, and then we realized we had to do it.”

And after months of emotional reckoning and hard work, they achieved their goal. The Greenbergs received a bill of about $300, down from their average of $1,000.

Their 70 percent reduction in water use didn’t come easy, though, and involved sacrifices from “the little things” and from “the big picture.”

“It’s having the big picture, having the commitment in front of your face every day of doing this, and it becomes a habit,” Jill shared. But it’s more than that.

“It’s a whole lot of little details — when you brush your teeth, how do you rinse the toothbrush out? You fill the glass a quarter full of water and you swish the toothbrush, little things like that.”

Jill and Tony looked at every aspect of their lives, from how they wash their dishes, to how they shower, to the plants they select to fill their garden.

“In our garden, it’s not magic,” Jill said. “We don’t have any magic, innovative ideas. We put in a drip system, which is critical but expensive, and we mulch more than we usually do … we bought little water meters, so I don’t water the ground if it’s wet.”

Tony stressed that the process is ongoing.

“Cutting water isn’t a thing you do, where you say, ‘We’ll do this and this and this, the end.’ It’s a dynamic process. It involves tweaking,” Tony said. Currently, the Greenbergs are struggling with whether or not the remaining grass in their backyard can be salvaged, or if it will fall victim to the drought, like Jill’s roses before it.

Emotionally, for Jill, cutting back means letting go of a long-held dream of the perfect English garden.

“I was absolutely guilty of wanting a picture-perfect English garden with roses, and grass and pansies. I would spend hours selecting pansies from the store,” Jill reminisced. “That’s nuts. That’s just nuts.”

Though the Greenbergs experienced early success in their efforts to cut water waste, District 29 and the City of Malibu are reaching out to those who may still be struggling with how to conserve.

Beginning Aug. 12, District 29 will host  weekly customer service hours at City Hall on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with the goal of answering questions, reviewing water bills and offering information on rebates, incentives, and other ways to conserve water.

“Malibu residents care deeply about the environment and are highly concerned about California’s historic drought,” Mayor John Sibert said in a statement released by the city. “But the mandatory water conservation measures can be confusing, can make water bills hard to understand and people are looking for answers so they can do the right thing.” 

According to the Greenbergs, District 29, which sent water use consultants to the Greenberg home free of charge, was hugely influential in their effort to cut back.

“I’ve got to compliment [District 29],” Tony said. “They really have provided education. Their website is very supportive and they’re not just telling you something and not giving you some suggestions for solving the problem.

“We feel like we’re working together rather than we’re fighting the county on anything.”