Save water outdoors

Efficient irrigation saves water while supporting thriving landscapes. Start with checking for leaks, adjusting your schedule, and upgrading equipment and technology.

Outdoor Tips Banner  Check For Leaks

Check your system for leaks

Turn on irrigation and individually check each zone.

Outdoor Tips Banner  Controller

Set your watering schedule

Water in the morning or evening for optimal uptake.

Outdoor Tips Banner  Upgrade Old Equipment

Upgrade old equipment

New technology can prevent runoff and overspray.

Outdoor Tips Banner  Try Drip

Try drip irrigation

Shrubs, trees, and narrow areas are ideal for drip. 

Outdoor Tips Banner  Build Healthy Soil

Build healthy soil

Healthy soil acts like a spnge to hold water.

Outdoor Tips Banner  Choose Waterwise Plants

Choose waterwise plants

Plants with low water needs will thrive.

Frequently Asked Questions


  1. Start by turning on each zone individually for 3 minutes each.
  2. Manually inspect the area being watered. Look for wet spots, uneven coverage, broken or leaning sprinkler heads, misting (usually due to excessive water pressure), weak spray patterns which can be due to leaking underground pipes, and clogged drip emitters.
  3. For sprinklers, adjust spray patterns and positions to make sure the sprinkler heads aren’t watering sidewalks and roads. 
  4. For drip irrigation, move tubing and emitters if plants have grown.

Think of your soil as a reservoir. Watering to the root depth of this reservoir creates a healthy, water-efficient garden. Here are some general guidelines:

  •  For lawns in clay soil, apply ½ inch of water to moisten the soil to a depth of 6 inches; water shrubs even more deeply and less frequently.

  • You can determine how long it takes to apply ½ inch of water by setting out several catch cans, running your sprinklers, and measuring the time it takes to fill them to ½ inch.

  • You can also check watering depth by watering for five minutes, then probing the soil with a spade to see how deeply you have moistened the soil. If five minutes of irrigation moistens your clay soil two inches, you would need to water for fifteen minutes to moisten the soil to a depth of six inches. This test only works during the dry season.

Leave the number of minutes you irrigate the same, but add or subtract days per week as the seasons change. 

Your garden need less water in April than in July, not just because of temperatures, but because of the length of the day. Add days to your watering schedule for the summer season, then reduce the number of days as the fall rains begin. Lawns are the thirstiest landscapes. Perennials and shrubs require less frequent watering (usually not more than 1-2 days per week).

Another option is to exchange your irrigation controller for a self-adjusting model. Weather-based controllers take the guesswork out of irrigation scheduling, providing plants the water they need based on current weather.

EBMUD customers may be eligible for rebates for installing a smart controller.

Cycle and soak refers to setting up multiple run times for the same irrigation zone to allow water to soak into the soil. For example, three, 5-minute run times with an hour in between each will allow water to reach the plant root zone, while a single, 15-minute runtime may result in run off. The cycle and soak method is critical when you are watering on a slope or in clay soil, which absorbs water slowly.

Drip irrigation applies water through emitters directly to a plant's root zone. Water is delivered at a rate of gallons per hour rather than gallons per minute typical of an overhead spray system. This slower application can be beneficial to plants and prevents overspray and runoff onto sidewalks and into gutters. 



Landscape to suit our Mediterranean climate. Choose plants that have low water requirements and will thrive in our local climate. Consider your lot’s exact features, including sun and shade, dry and damp areas, plant size, and how you plan to use each section of your yard. Our resources and plants lists can give you ideas, but you will need to see what is available at local nurseries. 

Plant in the fall. Avoid summer, when hotter temperatures mean plants need more water to become established. Planting is the fall allows plants to get established during the rainy season.

“Hydro-zone” your yard. Grouping plants with similar moisture needs in the same area makes it easier to make sure they get the water they need without overwatering. For example, separate shrubs from trees, which have different water requirements.

Save grass for functional areas. Plant grass in play zones and other areas where it will be used and enjoyed. Instead of planting turf on sleep slopes or other hard-to-water spaces, consider ground cover, perimeter plants or mulch.

Plant shade trees. Trees provide many benefits including cooler temperatures, carbon sequestration, and wildlife habitat.

Sheet mulching decomposes a lawn on site rather than digging up the turf and hauling away valuable organic material. Natural decomposition improves soil quality. Sheet mulching involves layering cardboard, compost, and mulch on top of the existing lawn. 

Visit the Lawn to Garden Marketplace for tutorials and a directory of vendors carrying sheet mulching materials.