Summer Landscapes: 5 Ways To Save Water And Money
By Warren Tenney
Some day this June or July your city will reach peak demand for water. It’s not our thirst that drives the highest demand for drinking water each summer and we’re not washing more clothes or dishes or taking more showers. In these extremely hot months peak demand is driven by outdoor use. Homeowners are running their irrigation systems more frequently and longer to water trees, grass, shrubs and other plants. Here are five things to know about watering your landscape that will help lower your water costs this summer and help you make smart irrigation decisions all year long.
1. The Schedule: Water once every two weeks when temperatures begin to rise in the late spring, once a week in the hottest and driest part of the year, usually late May until the monsoon brings rain and higher humidity in early July. Then dial back the watering to once every 10 days or so. When you do water, water to a depth of 3 feet for trees, 2 feet for shrubs, 1 foot for smaller plants and a half foot for grass. (You can measure the depth of your watering with something as simple as a dowel rod with a carved point.) Water – Use It Wisely’s Watering by the Numbers is an online guide with more details about proper and efficient watering. Its companion booklet is available from your city's water conservation office.
2. The Controller: Don’t get frustrated and give up on learning to adjust your automated irrigation controller or leave it to your landscaper. Watch the manufacturer’s how-to video for your controller until you can quickly and confidently change the settings to save water and money. Irrigation specialists recommend re-programming a controller a minimum of four times a year to match the seasonal needs of your landscape. Some cities will offer rebates to homeowners, HOAs and businesses to defray the cost of installing new WaterSense approved smart controllers. A smart irrigation controller adjusts watering cycles based on weather and the amount of moisture in the soil.
3. The System: Many emitters commonly used on drip systems don’t control for pressure. Plants closer to the irrigation valve or at the bottom of a slope get overwatered from heavy flow. Other plants start looking sad because they are getting too little water or the water is running off too quickly to be absorbed. Homeowners typically respond by overwatering the entire yard. Using inexpensive “pressure compensating emitters” found in home improvement and irrigation supply stores help each plant get the same gallon or half-gallon per hour. These emitters also slow the water’s flow rate so it sinks deep into roots.
If sprinkler heads have a 15-foot spray capacity but are placed 18 feet apart, then a homeowner will have to overwater to avoid yellow patches. To maximize the efficiency of your sprinkler system make sure the heads are spaced correctly and don’t forget to put sprinkler heads in the corners of your yard to keep grass evenly green. The most efficient sprinkler nozzle is called a “stream rotor nozzle.” Instead of a single stream of water, these sprinkler nozzles use multiple fingers of water. They cover more evenly and their reach is more flexible. If you inherited a poorly spaced sprinkler system, installing these nozzles could extend a sprinkler’s reach and restore health to yellow patches without over watering the rest of the turf or rearranging the heads.
4. The Inspections: Homeowners and businesses often set irrigation systems to run during the night. It’s a good idea to water when temperatures decrease because less water evaporates and more gets to the plants. The downside is that there’s no one around to spot a broken emitter or water bubbling up from the ground due to a broken line. Underground pipes can crack and leak, tubes leading to plants can be cut by trimming tools or can split from wear. Emitters fall off or get clogged with dirt. If emitters are dripping at a consistent rate, they probably are using about a gallon or two each hour. If they are streaming, that same emitter is using 8 to 9 gallons per hour. A broken sprinkler head can waste up to 7 gallons of drinking water – per minute. A leak also means that somewhere in your landscape some grass, plants or trees are not getting enough water to survive. It’s worth your while to turn on your irrigation system monthly and walk your property to look for leaks. Ask your landscaper to manually turn on your irrigation system and alert you to any leaks.
5. The Results: It pays to learn how to water your landscape, adjust your controller, and maintain your irrigation system. The Town of Gilbert Conservation Specialists offer homeowners free Water Efficiency Checkups. These personal visits by a specialist include an analysis of your home’s irrigation system. The expert walks the property with the homeowner to find leaks and explain how to fix them. Homeowners also receive a hands-on lesson about programming their irrigation control boxes. A study of six years of data shows homeowners who took advantage of the Water Efficiency Checkups saved an average of 20 percent on their water bills and 50,000 gallons of drinking water a year. Water savings at these homes were significant even five years after the Water Efficiency Check Up.
Check your city’s water conservation website to get more information about free classes, DIY videos, brochures and tip sheets that help you save water outdoors. Some cities offer rebates to help you pay for the cost of a new irrigation controller or the cost of converting some grass to desert landscaping. AMWUA’s Smart Home Water Guide helps you find and fix outdoor water leaks. Help your city lower its peak demand this summer and save yourself some cash.
For 49 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.