WaterSmart Garden Rebate - FAQ

Landscape Guide to Water Efficiency
Learn about drought tolerant landscape design and efficient irrigation in Team WaterSmart's Landscape Guide to Water Efficiency

WaterSmart Garden Rebates for Irrigation Efficiency Improvements and Soil & Mulch Amendments

Now accepting applications!

In 2017, the RDN is piloting a WaterSmart Garden Rebate Program across the region. If you are interested, please submit the Step 1: Pre-Approval form (see link below) at your earliest convenience. Please note that this is a pilot program for 2017, space is limited. Once your application is submitted, it will be reviewed and applicants will be notified if they have been selected to participate in the program.

Up to $750 is available for the following upgrades:

  • Up to $550 for Irrigation Efficiency Improvements, including:
    • the installation of a smart control automatic irrigation controller, a rain sensor, a soil moisture sensor, and/or a weather-based evapotranspiration sensor
    • the conversion of conventional spray/rotor irrigation zones to drip irrigation
    • replacement of conventional spray/rotor emitters with matched precipitation rotators
  • Up to $100 for Soil & Mulch Amendments, including:
    • enriching on-site soils through the application of quality compost and soil products
    • top-dressing lawn areas to improve drought tolerance
    • adding bark or other organic mulch to protect amended soils
  • A BONUS rebate of up to $100 on eligible expenses is available to those who are pre-approved for both an Irrigation Efficiency Improvements Rebate, and a Soil & Mulch Amendment Rebate.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How much money can I get?

This incentive program provides up to $550 for improving the efficiency of existing residential irrigation systems through the installation and proper use of efficient irrigation system components. There is also up to $100 available for the amendment of existing on-site soils through the addition of high quality compost, topsoil and bark mulch to improve soil health and water retention.

Applicants who are pre-approved for both an Irrigation Efficiency Retrofit rebate AND a Soil & Mulch Amendment rebate under the program may be eligible for an efficiency bonus of up to $100 upon completion of their projects. This makes a total of $750 available per residential property for the improvement of landscape water efficiency.

There is only one rebate per property for the lifetime of the program. The rebate is available on a first come, first served basis. Once funds are exhausted, the program will be finished for this year. Please note that this is a pilot program and there are limited funds available in 2017.

Who is eligible?

This rebate program applies to residential property owners with properties in the Regional District of Nanaimo and member municipalities of Nanaimo, Lantzville, Parksville and Qualicum Beach who are making efficiency improvements to existing and established landscapes and in-ground automatic irrigation systems.

How do I apply?

Step 1: Pre-Approval: Applicants must first provide a completed pre-application form describing the planned efficiency improvements, including the requisite "before" photos of the site (photos may be emailed to waterprotection@rdn.bc.ca). Photos should have an indication of scale, such as a person or a meter stick. Pre-approved applicants will have up to $750 set aside for them, depending on their project. Upon receiving written approval from the RDN, the applicant will have 4 months to complete their purchases and installation and submit their Step 2: Documents Submission forms to receive their rebate(s). Step 2: Documents Submission: The final document submission must occur within 4 months of the applicant's pre-approval. It must include:

  • Photos of all upgrades completed as part of the rebate application, clearly showing the same yard area depicted in the photos associated with the pre-approval application, including:
    • Photo(s) of all completed irrigation efficiency upgrades, such as a new smart controller installed, a new rain/weather/soil sensor installed, drip irrigation installed, MP rotator emitters installed to replace conventional spray emitters.
    • Photo(s) of lawn/garden areas that received soil and/or mulch amendments. Please see the heading "How do I know if I need to amend my soil? How much topsoil and/or mulch should I be adding to my garden?" below for more information about required amendment depths.
  • Sales receipt(s) or invoice(s) marked PAID , and dated May 2017 and onwards, indicating the items applied to the rebate. Sales receipts must be official, and include the address and contact information of the contractor or supplier, the date of sale, and the cost for each item.
  • The completed checklists: Eligible Components Must-Have Features Checklist and Efficient Irrigation Best Practices Checklist

Applications can be emailed to waterprotection@rdn.bc.ca or mailed or dropped off to the RDN Administration office at 6300 Hammond Bay Rd., Nanaimo, B.C. V9T 6N2.

Why is the RDN offering a rebate program for improving the water efficiency of established landscapes?

During the summer months, water use in the RDN doubles and sometimes triples! Most of this increased use is due to our outdoor water demand, primarily to keep landscapes green and fragrant during the dry season. Meanwhile, longer, drier summers and lighter snow packs mean longer watering seasons and less precipitation and snow melt to recharge aquifers and reservoirs during the summer months. In addition to outreach through the RDN's Team WaterSmart and watering restrictions, the RDN's 2013 Water Conservation Plan identifies the development of "a rebate program aimed at improving household water efficiency related to outdoor water use" as a priority measure for 2014 - 2016 (2013 Water Conservation Plan, p. 26).

Team WaterSmart has conducted hundreds of Irrigation Check-Ups throughout the RDN. On the majority of sites visited, the three highest priority actions for increased landscape water efficiency were:

  • repairing leaks and retrofitting the irrigation system with newer, more efficient components to increase watering efficiency and scheduling efficiency;
  • amending the soil to improve the soil structure and water retention capabilities; and
  • adding organic mulch to the top of garden beds to regulate temperature and reduce evaporation.
See Team WaterSmart's "Top 10 Irrigation Tips" brochure for more information.

What are the benefits of improving the efficiency of my irrigation system?

Improving the efficiency of your irrigation system will help you to reduce your landscape's water consumption, while allowing you to deliver water only where you want it to go. This results in water savings and a healthier landscape. Not only will you save on your water bill, but you are working to conserve and protect our community's water resources to ensure a sustainable future in our region. See the Irrigation Efficiency Rebate Step 2: Documents Submission form above for eligible efficiency upgrades.

What are the benefits of amending my soil with quality compost, soil and organic mulch?

It starts with the soil. There is nothing more important to the success of a garden than healthy soil. The combination of the mineral soil, soil organisms and organic matter (compost) - or 'growing medium' as the combination is called in the landscape trade - will determine almost entirely the performance of plantings and grass in terms of survival, health, rate of growth and water needs. Nurturing healthy soil can double the rate of plant survival and growth, and cut landscape water needs by 50%. In part, this is because healthy soil acts like a sponge, holding water and nutrients in the root zone of plants. Furthermore, healthy, absorbent soil is a key part of property storm water management, as it increases your landscape's ability to retain water from large rainfall events. And yet, good quality soil is often one of the first things to be sacrificed to save money in landscape design and maintenance- that's NOT Water Smart!

The addition of mulch can reduce water loss through evapotranspiration. It protects your investment in cultivating quality soil, by reducing evaporation, leeching, and erosion. Mulch also reduces weed growth, and adds a finished look to a garden while providing nutrients to plants.

Together, healthy soil and organic mulch maximize the water-retaining potential of our landscapes, allowing us to maintain a healthy garden with less water.

Do I need a Building Permit to perform retrofits to my irrigation system?

No, a building permit is not required for the efficiency upgrades eligible under this program. However, if you are conducting the irrigation retrofits as part of a larger home improvement project and are unsure whether you will require a permit, please contact the RDN Building & Bylaw Department at 250-390-6530.

Where do I purchase efficient irrigation system components?

Many home improvement or building supply retailers offer a wide range of efficient irrigation options. However, a retailer specializing in irrigation equipment may be able to better assist you to choose the right equipment for your existing system and landscape efficiency needs.

There are several local retailers of efficient irrigation equipment, including:

If you know of, (or own) a business that should be on this list, please email waterprotection@rdn.bc.ca.

Why do I need to work with an irrigation professional certified by the Irrigation Industry Association of BC?

The Irrigation Industry Association of BC's standards and guidelines promote water, soil and energy conservation practices through efficient irrigation system design, installation and management. IIABC Certified Irrigation Professionals have taken training courses on these topics and have passed industry-standard certification exams, making them knowledgeable about industry best practices and current efficiency technologies. Certified Irrigation Schedulers and Certified Irrigation Technicians - Level 2 have a higher level of training than Certified Irrigation Technicians - Level 1.

How do I find an Irrigation Industry Association of BC certified irrigation professional?

There are many IIABC Certified Irrigation Professionals with different levels of training working in our region, please see the list below or visit IIABC's Membership Directory.

There are several IIABC certified irrigation professionals with varying levels of certification operating in our region. The following businesses have IIABC certified professionals on staff:

If you know of, (or own) a business that should be on this list, please email waterprotection@rdn.bc.ca.

Where do I purchase quality top soil, compost, and mulch?

Soil marts, nurseries, garden centers and home improvement stores offer a wide selection of topsoil, compost and bark mulch products by the bag or in bulk.

There are several local retailers of soil, compost and mulches including:

If you know of, (or own) a business that should be on this list, please email waterprotection@rdn.bc.ca.

How do I ensure I'm choosing quality top soil, compost, and/or bark mulch?

It's important to be a savvy consumer when purchasing soil, compost and mulch. The following tips will help you to choose a quality topsoil, compost or mulch product.

Soil & Compost:

Optimum amounts of organic matter in a living growing medium produce garden soil or compost blend that:

  • feels soft and crumbles easily
  • drains well and warms up quickly in spring
  • does not crust after planting
  • soaks up heavy rains with little runoff
  • produces healthy, high quality plants
  • stores moisture for drought periods
  • has few clods and no hardpan
  • resists erosion and nutrient loss
  • supports high populations of soil organisms
  • has a rich, earthy smell
  • does not require increasing fertilization
Growing medium is often a mix of topsoil and organic matter (compost), and sometimes sand.

Common problems to avoid when purchasing soil and compost include:

  • Topsoil that is too coarse (no silt or clay) or too heavy (no sand). A sandy loam is the optimum texture.
  • Topsoil that is weed infested. Seeds can lay dormant in topsoil for years. Look for a topsoil source that is relatively weed free.
  • Compost that is weed infested or compost that is not yet decomposed, which robs the soil of nitrogen. Livestock manure often has both these problems. Both weed seeds and decomposition problems can be avoided with a proper composting process.
Purchase growing medium from reliable suppliers and contractors who can certify that the products meet the specifications of the BC Landscape Standard and local bylaws.

Quality soil and compost purchasing tips are taken from Team WaterSmart's Landscape Guide to Water Efficiency.


Once you've amended your gardens with good quality compost and soil, protect your investment by adding mulch on top of the soil. Mulch is simply something that protects the earth. It shades and insulates the soil, preventing against evaporation, regulating temperature, and protecting soil structure. Many plants and trees create their own beneficial mulch in the form of leaf litter and natural shedding which we often remove when we're "tidying up" our gardens. There are many types of mulch available for purchase, of which bark mulch is one type.

Some tips for purchasing and applying mulch:

  • Look for a bark mulch made up of a mix of fine particles as well as larger, more obvious pieces of bark. Bark mulch ranges in texture from fine to medium coarseness, and in color from light (wood chips) to dark (composted bark mulch). Keep in mind many mulches change colour with exposure as well. Medium coarse mulches are a good option as they allow water through from the surface more readily and prevent soil crusting. In addition, the larger pieces break down more slowly, meaning you need to re-mulch less often (every 3-5 years, instead of every 2 years with fine mulches).
  • Wood chips can be a good, inexpensive option, but be sure to inspect the product's quality before purchase. Take a look at the mulch pile, and if the supplier processes it on site, look at the raw product. If you see pieces of metal or nails and screws in and around the pile of mulch, or if there is no bark pieces at all, only a fine brown "mulch", those can be signs that the product is made from a treated waste wood product, rather than leftovers from raw wood processing. Please note, small rocks are not a sign of poor mulch, but commonly found due to the process of loading the material.
  • When applying mulch on top of soils make sure each layer is watered before adding the next. So, if you were applying a layer of fine mulch, followed by a layer of coarser bark mulch around the roots of a shrub, you would:
    1. Water the soil around the shrub's root zone thoroughly.
    2. Apply the fine mulch and water it thoroughly.
    3. Add the coarse mulch on top and water it thoroughly.
  • If you are choosing a straw mulch for veggie gardens or strawberries, be sure that you are getting straw and not hay. Hay contains a higher concentration of seeds and could cause unwanted weed growth in your garden.
Quality mulch tips provided by Amy Robson of Nature's Choice Design

How do I know if I need to amend my soil? How much topsoil and/or mulch should I be adding to my garden?

Dig a test hole in typical areas of your yard. If the depth of good black crumbly soil is less than 150 mm (6") under lawn and 300 mm to 450 mm (12" - 18") for shrubs, you are likely using more water than you should. Rather than starting over with new plantings, it is possible to gradually add to your soil depth by topdressing with thin layers of growing medium and well-composted organic matter.

For grass areas: Topdressing should not exceed 6mm (1/4") depth at a time. Once grass is established, stop removing the grass clippings from the surface. Mow regularly, and allow the clippings to decay into the soil, where they will recycle the organic matter and nutrients back into the soil organisms and the grass.

For shrub and groundcover areas: The minimum recommended depth per top dress application of topsoil or compost is 2’’ (50 mm). The maximum depth could be as much as 3’’ (75mm).

For on-going maintenance once adequate soil depth is in place, use organic mulches like bark mulch to protect your recent investment in the soil by reducing soil moisture evaporation, minimizing weed germination, and providing a long-term supply of organic matter. Allow leaf drop to remain - this builds up a 'natural duff' like in the forest, that builds the soil, soil life, and recycles nutrients. Apply mulches at a minimum thickness of 50 - 75mm (2 - 3 in). Inspect depth seasonally and add as required to maintain minimum depth.

Approximately 6mm (1/4 inch) for lawn areas, and 75mm (3") for garden beds is the required depth of soil amendment to be eligible for the rebate program. 50mm (2 in) is the required depth of mulch in garden beds for eligibility to the rebate program. In addition, applicants must be top dressing at least 400 sq ft of landscape area.

How do I figure out how much top soil or mulch to buy for my yard/garden area?

Search online for a topsoil or mulch calculator like this one to help you calculate the amount of soil or mulch needed to cover your target landscape area to the desired depth. A helpful guide is that one yard of soil will cover approximately 320 sq ft to a depth of one inch.

Can I apply to the rebate to help with the installation of a new landscape (ie. as part of a new build)?

No, this program provides support for homeowners to improve the efficiency of existing residential landscapes only. However, it is recommended that new landscapes be designed and installed with water efficiency in mind, by utilizing efficient irrigation options, ensuring an adequate base of quality soil and mulch, and choosing low-water use or drought tolerant plant species. See Team WaterSmart's Landscape Guide to Water Efficiency for more information on water smart landscapes.

What is a pilot program and why are you running one?

A pilot program is a small, preliminary program released in advance of a larger program launch. A pilot program allows interest and demand to be assessed, and any unintended or unanticipated challenges associated with the program's requirements and application structure to be identified and addressed before rolling out a larger-scale rebate. The WaterSmart Garden Rebate was piloted in the RDN Water Service Areas in 2016, and 2017 is the first year it will be rolled out to all residents in the RDN. This includes all water services areas as well as residents on private wells. Because it is still in pilot stage, incentive funds are very limited.