By Charlie Popeck, LEED AP
Nothing drives me crazier than watching sprinklers during a rainstorm. Potable water is a precious resource that should be managed carefully. There are many easy strategies and products available to aid homeowners with responsible water use, money saving and time. Here are the top three areas of focus for your home:
1 Reduce the need for irrigation
Ideally, design a landscape using only native or adaptive vegetation for plantings. Easy steps include:
Plant native or adapted vegetation. There are attractive plants in every region, and they should be used as the foundation for any good landscape design.
Reduce or eliminate grass. Grass does not make sense in many areas of the country like the desert southwest. My motto is, “If you have to water it–don’t do it.”
Mulching around the base of a plant will help to reduce water evaporation, and can supply significant nutrients to the plant in times of stress. This is a very inexpensive strategy that can be completed quickly.
Use natural fertilizers and supplements instead of chemicals. This is a no-brainer and should be done right away.
And of course, get an early start to your planting. If young plants are chosen and installed early in the season, transplanting stress is greatly reduced, giving the plant a much improved chance of survival.
2 Irrigate wisely
For designs that require irrigation, “micro-irrigation” technologies should be used to apply water where, when and in only the amount required for optimal plant health. Micro-irrigation can include common products like drip emitters, moisture sensors and irrigation clocks or controllers.
Drip emitters deliver a specified amount of water to plants and come in various types. By using drip emitters, the evapotranspiration rate (the rate at which plants lose water through evaporation) is kept to a minimum, water use is greatly reduced, and water bills are lowered.
Conducting a survey of your drip emitters at the beginning of each summer will ensure they have not become clogged by hard water buildup and will protect your plants.
There are several different types of irrigation controllers on the market, but the two most common types are electromechanical and electronic. Electromechanical controllers are very reliable and not particularly sensitive to the quality of the power available. Electronic controllers provide a large number of consumer-friendly features at a relatively low cost; however, these types of systems are more susceptible to power failures.
Most controllers have a “rain button” that will override your pre-programmed watering cycle in the event of a rainstorm. Be sure that your chosen unit has this feature and learn how to use it.
Moisture sensors are also an excellent idea if irrigation water is used. These units sense the amount of moisture in the soil and will only allow water to be delivered if the soil gets dry enough.
3 Use water more than once
It seems a shame to use potable water meant for human consumption to irrigate landscape elements, particularly when stormwater, municipally provided reclaimed water or graywater (the useable water that comes from sinks, showers and washing machines within the home) can be an alternative.
Stormwater collection is a simple solution – a 55-gallon drum or two, connected to a home’s rain gutter to collect runoff, can be implemented easily and at a low cost. Many cities also offer an opportunity to connect to their reclaimed waterline for irrigation purposes.
The collection and use of graywater is another key water efficiency strategy that is best implemented during new construction.
It may not be realistic to implement all the ideas mentioned, but they can be applied in a step-by-step manner to effectively reduce water use and realize cost savings. Do what you can afford and apply the rest when you can – ideally before next spring, as many of these strategies free you from being a slave to your landscape during the summe