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HOMELawn Care Articles

Water Conservation
by Wes Yohey A still photograph of water flying through the air.

Good water practices aren't just great for the environment; it has a compounding benefit throughout our ecological and water systems, and, better yet, your wallet.

To start, in most cases, electricity or gas is used to heat our home water, which accounts for almost 20 per cent of home energy usage. In addition to maintenance, to get water to our homes, the water utility uses energy to purify and pump the water through the pipes, as well as treat sewage generated by the community. Currently, about eight percent of the United States energy demand goes to treating, pumping, and heating water, which is enough electricity to power more than 5 million homes for an entire year.

Reducing household water use not only reduces your water bill, but you also help reduce the energy required to pump and treat public water supplies. In addition, by reducing water use and saving energy in the process, you are decreasing the amount of greenhouse gases produced to generate electricity, thereby helping to address climate change. In fact:

Close up of water dripping out of an outdoor faucet. If just 1 percent of American homes replaced an older toilet with a new WaterSense labeled toilet, the country would save more than 38 million kilowatt-hours of electricity-enough electricity to power more than 43,000 households for one month.

If one out of every 100 American homes were retrofitted with water-efficient fixtures, we could save about 100 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year-avoiding 80,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That is equivalent to removing nearly 15,000 automobiles from the road for one year!

If 20 percent of U.S. homes used high-efficiency clothes washers, national energy savings could be 285 billion BTUs per day - enough to supply the energy needs of over one million homes.

Outdoor Water Irrigation
The United States consumes over 26 billion gallons of water every day, which is about 260 gallons per household. About 30 percent, or 7.8 billion gallons, is used outdoors. Unfortunately, much of this is, at best, unnecessary, and at worse, wasteful.

Added to the annual regional rainfall totals, a typical suburban homeowner will use over 10,000 gallons of water per year to their lawn. Much of this is lost through evaporation, runoff, and poor watering practices.

Using a more drought resistant grass can help quite a bit. But even then, weather conditions may require the occasional watering. The methods commonly used today include:

Manual watering
Manual watering with a hand-held water nozzle is usually the most water-efficient method. A manual hose watering will typically use 33 percent less water than an automatic irrigation system. Watering systems with automatic timers use 47 percent more water; in-ground sprinkler systems use 35 percent more water; and drip irrigation systems use 16 percent more water than households that manually water.

Lawn Sprinklers
You can maximize the efficiency of the standard lawn sprinkler by reducing the flow and swivel or turning rates. The water evaporation rate increases the longer the water is in the air. In addition, sprinklers set to rotate or spin at High don't allow the water enough time to accumulate and saturate the lower root levels of the soil.

Automatic irrigation systems
Drip-type irrigation systems, which includes water efficient spray heads, are considered the most efficient of the automated irrigation methods since they deliver water to the plants' roots. In-ground sprinklers and drip irrigation systems need to be operated and maintained properly to be water-efficient. Rain sensors can be installed to prevent sprinklers from watering during and immediately after a rainfall. Soil moisture sensors activate sprinklers only when soil moisture drops below the programmed levels.

Over-watering with automated sprinklers is common during the spring and fall because irrigation schedules are set to summer watering levels. Consider a watering system with a weather-based controller. These devises can be programmed to adapt to diverse landscape and weather conditions.

Close up of water drop on a blade of grass Over-Watering & Under-Watering
Over-watering and under-watering are other common problems. Over-watering not only wastes water, but also the energy and resources required to produce and distribute clean water to our homes. Along with over-watering, too little water is the cause of many common plant health problems. You can have healthier plants, save money on water bills, and conserve precious water resources by learning to give your lawn and garden the right amount of water they need, and no more. Try these tips to more efficient watering.

Less is more
If you step on your lawn and the grass springs back, it does not need to be watered. In addition to wasting water, over-watering can increase leaching of fertilizers into ground water and can harm your lawn and plants. Watering plants too much and too frequently also results in shallow roots, weed growth, disease, and fungus. Familiarize yourself with the settings on your irrigation controller and adjust the watering schedule regularly to conform with seasonal weather conditions.

Use alternative sources of water
To further reduce your water consumption, consider using alternative sources of irrigation water, such as gray water. Gray water (also greywater, graywater, gray water) is reclaimed waste water collected from domestic activities including laundry, dishwashing and bathing (in contrast to "blackwater" which contains human waste). Other sources include collected rainwater through rain barrels or cisterns. Most water used to irrigate landscapes is treated drinking water. Reducing the amount of drinking water we use for landscape irrigation reduces the burden on our water treatment facilities, not to mention lowering your water and energy bills (some drought-prone municipalities do not allow water reclaiming; check with your municipal officials before considering).

Also try these steps to reduce your water requirements:

* Water lawns separately from other plantings. Make sure sprinklers are not watering pavement.

* Water in the early morning-if you water at mid-day, much of the water just evaporates. Evening watering should be avoided because it can encourage the growth of mold or plant diseases.

* Water new trees and shrubs longer and less frequently than shallow-rooted plants, which require smaller amounts of water more often. Use soaker hoses or drip irrigation systems for trees and shrubs. Once established, trees and shrubs in many areas of the United States generally do not require watering except, perhaps, in arid regions.

* Control the flow of outdoor hose watering with an automatic shut-off nozzle.

* Minimize or eliminate chemical fertilizing. This artificially promotes new growth that will need additional watering.

* Raise your lawn mower cutting height. Longer grass blades increase the shading area in the lawn, reducing evaporation and inhibiting weed growth.

* If water puddles, stop watering until the water has time to soak in. When soil is dry or compacted, it won't absorb the water as quickly.

* Add compost and mulch to the soil to improve water retention and reduce evaporation.

* Use leftover water from the bath or sink on plants or the garden during restricted watering times (don't use water that contains bleach, automatic-dishwashing detergent, fabric softener, or other chemicals).

* You can also allow an established lawn to go dormant during hot summer months (in non-arid parts of the United States). Water just once a month and brown areas of the lawn will grow back when more water is available.

Share your experience with water conservation or if you'd like more information.