More Contra Costa residents using free, recycled water to keep landscapes green

MARTINEZ, Calif. (KTVU) - The number of people using a program in Contra Costa County to get free, recycled water has doubled in in the past month.

The recycled water is available to any customer of the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District, as long as they sign up and register for the program.

Once enrolled, people can use the water for their lawn or garden, and can collect up to 300 gallons per trip as long as they can transport it themselves. They can make as many trips as they like.

It takes 550 gallons to water Jerry Liberty's lawn in Martinez. He turns on the hose to soak his landscaping at least twice a week - and has no regrets about it.

"I like my lawn… keeping everything green keeps my wife happy," he laughed.

Liberty uses recycled water from the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District in Martinez. It is treated wastewater that is safe enough for irrigation, but not approved for drinking. CentralSan has been providing the water to commercial customers for their landscaping for years, but started offering the water for free to its residential customers in November.

Liberty pulls up to the filling station, twice a week and fills a 275 gallon tank in his truck. He drives home, hooks up a hose, and pours the water out on his downhill, sloping lawn.

Liberty heard about the recycled water program from a friend, but he decided to sign up after an eye-opening day on his job. He works for the East Bay Regional Park District.

"A couple weeks ago I went to Lake Chabot and it looked like it was down about 30 feet," he said. "It was mind-boggling."

Liberty is one of the hundreds of people who've signed up for the recycled water program this year. The number of users has more than doubled in the past month.

"In April we had 91 users, and now, we're up to 244," Carpenter said.

In just the first 12 days of this month, Central San has given away more than 250,000 gallons of recycled water.

"Everybody's spent all this money on their landscaping and their lawns," Carpenter said about demand for the program. "This is a way to protect that investment, and a responsible way to protect that investment."

Carpenter said not everyone registered for the program is equipped with a pick-up truck or trailer. "People will pack their cars with one gallon containers," he said, adding that, "As long as you can seal it and safely transport it," customers can take as much or as little as they want.

The district is expecting the program to continue its "phenomenal growth" this summer.

"Come June, July and August, people are really going to come down here and do what they can to protect their lawns."

To stave off any questions from suspicious neighbors, eyeing his unusually green lawn, Liberty picked up one of the brand new signs being offered by Central San. The sign explains that recycled water is being used to keep his lawn green.

"They want to let their neighbors know they're being responsible," Carpenter said of the dozens of customer requests the district received to make the signs. "They want their neighbors to know this isn't drinking water."

It is free, irrigation water that is normally pumped into Susuin Bay, but instead of going down the drain, it's giving a new life to lawns like Jerry Liberty's.