Water Efficient Landscapes Come of Age

May 12, 2013

water waste 2

It’s May 10, 2013 and pushing into the mid-80’s.  Although we’ve had 3/4″ of rain earlier this week we’re still at the lowest rainfall        in the past 5 years with 31.5 inches since last July 1.  Last year we were at 39+ inches by now and the year before over 71 inches.

Snow pack and water content in the Sierra Nevada Mtns. low to nothing and already there are fires throughout the State.                                                    It’s going to be a    long, dry Summer.

It used to be that water efficiency meant turning off the sprinklers when you saw water running down the gutters but now it’s taken on a deeper meaning.  Enforced or not, the Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance is here (AB 1881) and water rates are continuing to rise.  Irrigation allotments to farmers have been cut and the State is on track to have water meters installed throughout Calif. within a few years.  The era of cheap water is coming to an end.

When I talk to students and clients about water efficiency and AB 1881 some of the first reactions are that of Big Brother telling us what or what not to do with our water – this isn’t the case.  Think about it – how many times have any of you driven through neighborhoods and seen water flowing down the sidewalks?  or broken sprinklers acting more like geysers than the even distribution devices they are supposed to be?  I’ve seen this plenty of times.  I found a broken drip line in my landscape last night allowing water to run down the driveway rather than into the planting beds.  It’s simply a waste.water waste

Water efficiency is like your weekly or monthly paycheck.  You live on a budget (well, some of us do)  and you conserve (save) some of your paycheck by depositing it in savings, an IRA or a checking account.  It’s the same with our water – rather than waste this resource it’s a way to conserve so there’s (hopefully) enough for all.

If you’re already on a meter you know how much you spend on water.  According to the EPA WaterSense website an average family of 4 uses around 400 gallons of water each day, and approx. 40% of this is used in the outdoors – that’s 160 gallons of water each day!  And some folks use a lot more than this estimate.  Add it up and that’s a lot of water!  And an awful lot of this water is wasted or used inefficiently.

When having a new landscape installed or retrofitting your existing landscape it’s a good idea to have a sub-meter installed that can track how much water you’re actually using in the landscape.  They’re not expensive – about $80.00 – and as long as you have a single point of connection to your irrigation system then this simply installs and tracks your usage.  Also the use of Smart controllers – controllers that track the weather, can save a lot of water.  Every manufacturer offers these controllers and in California AB 1881 requires it.  I’ve got one and now I don’t have to worry about the sprinklers or drip coming on when it rains or freezes.  It adjusts the run times based on temperatures so it runs more in these hotter summer months and less (or not at all) in the winter.  You still have to set up the initial program and walk the system to be sure there are no breaks or leaks, but you should be doing this anyway.  I’m on a well and the more efficiently I use my irrigation the less electricity I’m paying for.  I save water and I save money.

There are some great workshops that can help you learn how to be more water conscious.  One such program is the Green Gardener Training – there’s one for homeowners and one for professionals.  These 10 week programs teach you about composting, mulches, irrigation and proper design, soils and pests – including IPA.  Another is the Qualified Water Efficient Landscape (QWEL) training.  This is a 21 hour course covering water use all the way from what your watershed is to doing an irrigation audit to find out how effective and efficient your irrigation system is and for those who pass the final exam you are eligible to apply to be an EPA WaterSense Partner.  While neither of these programs are offered in every state right now they are growing.  And if you’re a teacher or just plain interested you can help get this training established in your area.  I teach QWEL and landscape irrigation audit courses at my Applegate studio and will soon have an on-line irrigation design class to help in promoting the wise and responsible use of our water.

So, back to the title of this article (remember – this isn’t a blog – I hate that word!) Water Efficient Landscapes Come of Age, as the cost of water, (really it’s the infrastructure – moving the water around – that really costs the money) increases we’re all going to want to have a greater awareness to how we’re using it.   California’s population right now is around 38 million people.  Projections show that by 2049 we’ll pass 50 million and by 2060 be around 53 million people.  With limited water resources, smaller snow pack that has less water content (this year’s water content was 17% of normal and the snow melt supplies 1/3 of our State water) and with January and February hitting a record dry, the State Water Project will only be delivering 35% of requested amounts.  The SWP supplies water for 25 million Californians and for about 1 million acres of agricultural use.

So does this sound like a resource we want or can afford to waste?  And it’s not just our drinking water, landscape and agricultural use – it’s also recreational and ecological concerns that we need to include.

The days of cheap water are coming to an end.  We need to use our water wisely and we need to be doing it starting now.  If you can convert your spray irrigation system to drip then do it.  Drip has an efficiency rating of around 90% – with spray you’re lucky to get 70%.  If you don’t know how to do it yourself, talk with a landscape contractor, designer or architect that can help.  Take a class and learn.  Do you really need all that lawn?  Some communities and water agencies will pay you for every square foot you remove.  Talk to your water agency and find out what incentives they offer, there may be rebates for Smart Controllers available and other offers as well.

It’s in the upper 80’s today here in Applegate  – think I’ll go out and put some more mulch in the vegetable and shrub beds.

Please use the contact form below and let me know what you think or if you’re interested in taking an upcoming class  –  I’ll be back in a few days and in the meantime –

be water smart



One Response to “Water Efficient Landscapes Come of Age”

  1. it was really an interesting and informative article. pretty cool post! thanks for sharing this. lista de email lista de email lista de email lista de email lista de email

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