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Are We Wasting the Drought?

Water Our Most Precious Resource Photo by Julien Harneis

We’ve always exalted Charles Fishman’s book The Big Thirst on our blog, but recently he wrote an article for the New York Times I think just missed its mark in a couple of ways.  Charles Fishman is an asset to our industry and an excellent proponent for water management in the United States so I was excited to see him get space in the New York Times and use it to call for changes in water management.  I thought much of what he said was spot on, but I also thought he could have said so much more about landscape irrigation. He mentions taking shorter showers won’t make up for the water lost to leaky pipes each year. He’s right, but if landscape irrigation accounts for half of our personal water use, better management of that water can make a dramatic difference.

Fishman’s only recommendation for reducing landscape irrigation was to enforce lawn-watering restriction like Las Vegas and Fresno have done- year round, everywhere- and to stop watering during the middle of the day.  There is much more we can do to be proactive landscape water managers which would reduce the need for water restrictions.    The first thing he should have recommended was smart controllers for landscape irrigation.  Smart controllers apply the proper amount of water to the landscape based on water needs measured daily.

There are a number of other ways to reduce water usage on your property. Maybe Charles was restricted by space in his column and since I  have the privilege of being the editor of this blog I can take all the space I want.  I am not going to waste the drought or the word-count.  A common perception is that you have to make a large upfront investment for a water management program to pay off. While an upfront investment often leads to long-term savings, there are a number of small changes you can make to your daily and weekly maintenance program that will make an immediate impact on your water consumption. Most of Fishman’s recommendations were large-scale changes that will take time to implement, but here are some easy changes you can make today:

  1. Water early in the morning right before dawn. This reduces losses to wind and evaporation.
  2. Your plants and turf most likely don’t need to be watered every day. If they’re not showing signs of stress, water only when needed to maintain health.
  3. Adjust sprinklers to avoid waste and ensure uniform distribution.
  4. Test the spray patterns of sprinkler systems; check for clogged lines and mixed nozzle sizes of sprinkler heads; and be sure to repair leaks.
  5. Use drip irrigation rather than sprinklers for ornamental shrubs to reduce water usage.
  6. Install rain shut-off devices on your irrigation controllers.
  7. Set lawn mower blades higher to increase ground shade and water retention in soil.
  8. Mulch around shrubs and planters to reduce evaporation and cut down on weeds.
  9. Use a broom rather than a hose to clean driveways or sidewalks.
  10. Use a hose with an automatic shut-off nozzle.

These ideas are smart whether we’re in a drought or not, so why stop when someone announces the drought is over?  We need to live like we’re always in a drought.  Saving water saves energy and money, minimizes pollution, and can keep your landscape healthier, so once you adopt these habits or install these pieces of technology, there’s no reason to go back to your old ways.

Many of the points in the article hit the nail on the head, and a couple will even contribute to landscape irrigation water savings indirectly.

How much does the water you consume cost?  I spend time every week trying to figure out how much our customers pay for water.  It is ridiculously complicated to figure out.  Fishman was so right to recommend the redesign of water bills with iPad-style graphics that clearly show how many gallons each customer used this month.  This should be easy for each consumer to find and the price should be included with it.  Awareness will stimulate conservation at home and on a grander scale.

Another great point in his article was the water mains of our cities should be a priority of every water utility.  Utilities are losing enough water every six days to supply our nation with water for a year?  As Charles points out in The Big Thirst, Americans are spending over $21 billion a year on bottled water and only $29 billion per year on water infrastructure.  I believe we are already doing a lot to not waste the drought, but we need to do more.

The larger problems cannot be fixed over night and will take time to put into action once they’ve been dreamed up and funded, so only time will tell if we really have wasted the drought.

Thank you Charles for the article in the New York Times, and thank you readers for taking time to read this blog and implement some of the suggestions.  Together we can do many things to not waste the drought.

Richard Restuccia

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Richard Restuccia

Richard Restuccia is a water management evangelist. He believes passionately in water efficiency and sees the financial and social benefits far too often to keep a secret. Richard is a spokesperson at industry events and on the Hill to provide direction and insight on landscape water management best practices. Richard puts his words into action through service on various boards and committees. Currently he serves on the Irrigation Association’s Board of Directors. As a board member, Richard serves in a variety of capacities, including government/public affairs. He is the liaison between the board and its marketing committee on the best ways to promote water efficiency and educate industry professionals on new technologies, products and services. Richard is also a regular contributor to Lawn & Landscape Magazine.

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COMMENTS (5)

  1. Thursday, 6:50 Warren Gorowitz

    Well said, Richard!

  2. Thursday, 10:15 Karen Kennedy

    I think Richard Restuccia is definitely “on” to something here… We need to tackle the big boulder that is water management/sustainability. If we only tackle the small pebbles (turning the water off when we brush our teeth) no substantial progress will be made. The analogy I see with water as a resource and drought-or-no-drought, it is like we have the mentality of living paycheck-to-paycheck. How do we create our Rainy Day Fund, save enough, change our behavior, so that we can have the water we need for the next generation?

  3. Friday, 9:14 Martha Golea

    Karen, I love the analogy of living paycheck-to-paycheck. It’s so true! Just because we have enough water for the moment doesn’t mean we’ll have enough for next week, or next year. Great point.

  4. Friday, 3:42 Chris Maxwell-Gaines

    Richard you have some good suggestions in addition to Charles’s list in his NY Times piece. About smart controllers though, Texas A&M has published a new study about the failures of the smart controllers they tested. Here’s a link to the story: http://stateimpact.npr.org/texas/2012/08/02/why-most-smart-irrigation-controllers-failed-the-drought-test/.

    What do you think about these failures?

  5. Friday, 5:39 Ginny Shaffer

    Amen to #9! Seems like we could clean the driveway, improve our golf swing, and trim our waistlines in one sweep!

    Bottled water issues? Now you’re hitting hard! I’m a heavy drinker (of water) and I help keep that industry afloat. I carry my own water from our pitcher at home when feasible, but if I lose my $20 stainless steel tank, that shoots our $ conservation!!

    Loving learning water conservation skills from y’all.

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