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History of The Water Conservation Garden

History of the Garden

The Garden under construction.
The Garden under construction.
Photo by Helix Water District.

In the early 1990s, during a multi-year drought, the Helix and Otay Water Districts envisioned a water conservation garden that would show the public how to save water outdoors.  Cuyamaca College, which had an excellent horticulture department, joined as a third partner, agreeing to provide land for the garden.

The Water Conservation Garden Authority incorporated in 1992 with these three original partners and received 501(c)3 tax exempt status.  The Authority took on the task of funding, developing, managing and operating the Water Conservation Garden, which opened to the public in 1999.
Water Conservation Garden Board President Warren Buckner
Former Water Conservation
Garden Board President
Warren Buckner.
Photo by Helix Water

The Authority's Board is composed of a representative and an alternate appointed from each of the sponsoring public agencies and may expand in membership as additional sponsor groups join the Joint Powers Authority. The Joint Powers Authority expanded to include the San Diego County Water Authority, the Sweetwater Authority, and the City of San Diego. The Joint Powers governed the Garden through 2010.

Starting in 2011, Friends of the Water Conservation Garden, a non-profit corporation, is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the Garden, through a contract with the Joint Powers Authority.  Joint Powers members provide financial support and remain the owners of the Garden.

Historical Timeline


  • John Bolthouse hired as Executive Director of The Garden.


  • Friends of the Water Conservation Garden takes over management and operations of the Garden.


  • Amphitheater shade installed.
  • School tours and assemblies reach 25,000 children.
  • Garden operations and governance transitions from the Joint Powers Agency to Friends of the Garden on Dec. 31.


  • Garden reaches over 50,000 people on-site and 100,000 offsite.
  • Meadow Garden opens.
  • Ms. Smarty Plants programs begin.


  • The Garden reaches 45,000 visitors.
  • Patio Gardens Open.
  • Dorcas Utter Memorial Sensory Garden opens.
  • Garden Partners Program begins.



  • Garden reaches 30,000 annual visitors.
  • Garden holds first Spring California-Friendly® Plant Sale.
  • New Children’s signage and exhibits open.
  • Garden acquires additional land from Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District.


  • H. Warren Buckner Cactus and Succulent Garden opens.
  • Friends of the Water Conservation Garden forms.
  • Garden holds first California-Friendly Gardening Festival.


  • Garden hires its first Executive Director, Marty Eberhardt.


  • City of San Diego becomes a member of the Garden.


  • San Diego County Water Authority becomes a member of the Garden.
  • Garden awarded a 2001 Constructor Award by Associated General Contractors of California for the Garden's contribution to the east county community.
Folk Festival at The Water Conservation Garden
Folk Festival at the Garden.
Photo by Helix Water District.


  • Garden "Watering Can" kiosk wins Best New Exhibitor Award and an Award of Merit at the Del Mar Fair.


  • Garden awarded Merit Award for graphic design of Garden icons from Creative Show of San Diego.


  • Garden awarded Orchid for design from San Diego Annual Orchids and Onions Awards program.


  • Garden awarded President's Award and Merit Award for design from San Diego Chapter, Amerian Society of Landscape Architects.


  • Construction accomplished. May 15 Garden Opening Celebration. Garden officially open to public in summer.


  • WCGA incorporated as non-profit 510 C (3) organization.


  • Garden officially named the Water Conservation Demonstration Garden.


  • Joint Powers Authority officially formed as Water Conservation Garden Authority. Garden conceptual design commissioned and created by Jon Powell.


  • Garden concept adopted as a combined immediate/long-term solution for water conservation by East County Water Conservation Council (ECWCC).


The Garden is supported by water district dues and by memberships, donations, grants, facility rentals, and gift shop sales.  In 2005, Friends of the Water Conservation was created to increase private support for the Garden.

Open daily, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.   Admission is by suggested donation.

The Water Conservation Garden is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, Federal Tax ID# 20-4395919.

The Water Conservation Garden  •  12122 Cuyamaca College Drive West  •  El Cajon  California  92019
Tel: (619) 660-0614  •  info@TheGarden.org