California's Drought Makes It Rain Big Bucks For Local Businesses "Every crisis is an opportunity." That's exactly how some entrepreneurs are looking at California's worsening drought; the drier it gets, the more their business thrives.
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California's Drought Makes It Rain Big Bucks For Local Businesses

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California's Drought Makes It Rain Big Bucks For Local Businesses

California's Drought Makes It Rain Big Bucks For Local Businesses

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

There is an old saying - every crisis is an opportunity. And that's how some entrepreneurs are looking at California's worsening drought. The dryer it gets, the more their business thrives. Ben Bergman of member station KPCC in Los Angeles sent this report.

BEN BERGMAN, BYLINE: When you call-up Leigh Jerrard, founder of Greywater Corps, this is what you hear.

LEIGH JERRARD: We are overwhelmed with inquiries right now, so it may be a while before we get back to you, but have faith.

BERGMAN: Jerrard's company helps homeowners with the often complicated process of installing their own greywater systems, which take drainage from showers or washing machines to water lawns. Sounds like a great idea now, but six years ago when Jerrard started the company, few people were interested.

JERRARD: Up until about a year ago, it's been pretty slow. Things started to pick up. Last year was the first year we were kind of solvent. And within the last month or two, the phone's been kind of ringing off the hook.

BERGMAN: In between interviewing to add another employee and another site visit, Jerrard managed to squeeze in an initial consultation for Lisa Mann at her craftsman-style house in Pasadena.

LISA MANN: Hi, I'm Lisa.

JERRARD: Leigh. Nice to meet you.

BERGMAN: Jerrard's job is part dispensing practical advice - what detergent to use.

MANN: I'm using powder.

JERRARD: Yeah, the powder has a lot of salt.

BERGMAN: And part greywater evangelism.

JERRARD: Water is unnaturally cheap. It's under a penny a gallon, and it allows people to really treat it with disrespect.

BERGMAN: After an hour, Mann is converted.

MANN: Sign me up. I'm serious. We got to do this.

BERGMAN: Using greywater will be both more expensive and more complicated than Mann thought. But to her, it's worth it.

MANN: It seems like the drought never ends. It's been here a while and it doesn't seem like it's going away, so we need to find ways to landscape and to be more efficient with our house.

BERGMAN: That sentiment is also helping entrepreneurs like Gayle Butensky, who started a drought-tolerant landscaping business five years ago.

GAYLE BUTENSKY: People have been doing this for years and years and years. It's just way more apparent now because once one person does it on the block, then the next person sees it.

BERGMAN: And Butensky says they see going native doesn't mean sacrificing aesthetics.

BUTENSKY: And it doesn't have to look like a desert, it doesn't have to look like rocks. It can look like a nice garden.

BERGMAN: All those native plants have to come from somewhere, which has made California Cactus Center a very popular shop these days. It's been in Molly Thongthiraj's family for 38 years.

MOLLY THONGTHIRAJ: When we first started it was not mainstream, but now it is.

BERGMAN: You were in the cactus business before it was cool?

THONGTHIRAJ: Oh, yes, yes.

BERGMAN: Thongthiraj says because of the drought, business has never been better - up 20 percent since last year. John Gayle is one of her colleagues.

JOHN GAYLE: There's always been a significant client base for people that just were collectors of cactuses and succulents, but I think now it's more of a necessity.

BERGMAN: And a cost saver because of government incentives. Last year, LA started offering a $3.75 rebate on every square foot of grass homeowners rip out and replace with a drought-friendly landscape. And no company has benefited more than Turf Terminators. Julian Fox is the company's chief operating officer.

JULIAN FOX: Every time that we think that we've built the organization to a size where it's going to satisfy demand, demand just kind of jumps up and we have to grow again.

BERGMAN: When Turf Terminators started just 10 months ago, it had three full-time employees. Now it has more than 500. For NPR News, I'm Ben Bergman in Los Angeles.

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