Helpers’ vigilance saves water

Serve as ambassadors for city’s water-efficiency efforts
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Gary Schreib scans the streets for signs of offenders — flooded gutters, puddles of water forming on lawns or algae growing on sidewalks.

When driving through his Meadow Vista neighborhood, he critiques each and every yard, analyzing sprinkler systems and looking for broken sprinklers or misting spray heads. The mist means a lot of water is lost to evaporation.

In fact, he pretty much exhibits this behaivor when passing through any neighborhood.

“Constantly, when I’m driving, I’m looking all over,” Schreib said. “I can’t get away from it.”

But he only gets paid to do this when on the clock as a water-conservation helper for the City of Roseville. In this position, he and fellow helper, Bill Higgins, ensure that residents don’t waste water outside.

“They’re our ambassadors,” said Lisa Brown, director of the water conservation division.

Most of the time, residents are grateful that Schreib finds a problem they might not spot otherwise. He takes slight offense to the term “water cops” and the notion that he is out to penalize unsuspecting homeowners.

“That’s not an accurate description,” he said. “You can call us teachers. We take the gentle approach … Our whole goal is efficient use of water. I think for a lot of people the goals are the same. They just don’t know how to do it.”

Roughly half of the local water supply goes to water lawns and landscape plants. Efficient irrigation conserves water, and keeps grass, trees and plants healthier. Even in non-drought conditions, conserving water remains critical.

“The work Gary and Bill do is very important to accomplish our water-reduction goals,” Brown said. “We have committed to reducing water waste in our Urban Water Management Plan, our Regional Water Forum Agreement and in our U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Water Management Plan.”

All agreements require the city to perform this service.

“We have found this service to be an excellent opportunity for us to work with our customers firsthand on water-use efficiency and … promote the rest of our programs,” Brown said.

Mondays through Fridays, Schreib typically starts his shift at 5:30 a.m. He maps out his route through residential neighborhoods in west Roseville. Higgins covers the east side. Another worker oversees commercial and large landscape areas.

Most overwatering occurs in the morning, Schreib said. People tend to water their lawns early because cooler weather prevents evaporation. But sometimes they forget to turn off sprinklers during rain, or a timer system might malfunction.

If Schreib notices a problem before 8 a.m. — as a courtesy to sleeping residents — he leaves door hangers with information or a notification. A week later, he circles back to the same neighborhoods and sees if the problem has been resolved. If not, he issues a second notice.

“It usually doesn’t get to that point,” he said.

The majority of people comply immediately. After a second notice, if the problem isn’t fixed, a final red tag is issued. This notice goes to code enforcement for the issuance of a ticket if a correction is not made within five days.

“I do not believe a single violation was issued for noncompliance (in the past two years),” Brown said. “I believe the handful that were going to code enforcement were remedied just before our division turned them over. We really try to work with customers to prevent a violation.”

In his year of working for the city, Schreib has issued two red tags. He previously served as landscape supervisor for Rocklin’s Public Works Department for nine years and then worked for the City of Irvine. He left the public sector to run a music store for 10 years before selling the business.

He knows a lot about irrigation systems, and he’s ready to share the wealth.

“A lot of people just don’t know about sprinkler timers or they need help,” Schreib said. “We’re out there to educate them.”

For instance, some residents don’t know about algae growth on sidewalks, which is mainly caused by overwatering and water leaks. Algae occurs when water does not fully evaporate. Water should not flow continuously across walkways or other surfaces in the absence of rain. Homeowners are responsible for cleaning algae from affected surfaces and eliminating the cause of the growth.

Schreib will talk to residents about this, and about smart timers and a whole host of other water-efficiency measures. These conversations are paying off.

“It’s good to see neighborhoods that once we’re a problem and are now taken care of,” he said. “It seems what we’re doing is making a difference. It’s a good feeling.”

Sena Christian can be reached at


Tips for water efficiency
• Properly set, monitor and adjust your irrigation controller
• Set your irrigation controller to water every third day
• Sprinkler run times of more than seven minutes often result in runoff. Program your controller for frequent watering cycles. Separate each cycle by no less than one hour. Frequent but short watering cycles can minimize or eliminate runoff.
• During winter weather conditions, irrigate only during extended dry periods when soil moisture content is low or rain has not fallen for eight days or more
• To report water waste, call (916) 774-5761 or visit
• For other tips, visit

Source: City of Roseville’s water conservation division

City of Roseville water-efficiency offerings:

Water Wise house call
A conservation specialist will create a custom watering schedule for your landscape, program your irrigation controller, evaluate your sprinkler system, provide rebate information and more. For an appointment, call (916) 774-5761.


Toilets: Receive up to $150 for replacing an older (pre-1992) toilet with a 1.28 gallon per flush model.

Clothes washer: Receive up to $75 for a high-efficiency washing machine.

Smart timer: Receive $150 for a four-station timer, with an additional $25 rebate for each additional station, up to $200, by replacing your manual irrigation timer with a smart timer. Have the timer installed and programmed by a licensed landscape contractor and get 25 percent of the labor cost reimbursed, up to $50.

Pool covers: Receive $50, or 50 percent off the purchase price of a cool cover (whichever is less). Get up to a $200 if a permanent, mechanical pool cover is installed.

Irrigation efficiency: Receive up to $200 for upgrading with high-efficiency irrigation equipment.

Cash for Grass Program: Replace thirsty grass with low-water use plants. The city will rebate customers $1 per square foot of turf replaced up to a maximum of $1,000 per site. View details at