Trimming, Timing, and Topping Off: Conserving Water Outside
photo by Beth Harper via Creative Commons.
Outdoors is where we as residents tend to use huge amounts of water. In some parts of the country, mostly out in the arid West, 70 percent or more of residential water is used for lawn irrigation.
Something is seriously wrong with this picture. Pink flamingos and fountains aside, decorative lawns that need lots of care and lots of water are scourges. It may be that suburbia is making the wells run dry. Indeed, homeowners use an average of 120 gallons of water each day for things outside.
Think about that for a second: "things outside" -- where rain should be able to do the job nicely -- if we stick with the vegetation that grows naturally in our locale, that is. Irrigation, my dear water-freak neighbor, was invented to keep our fields of food alive, not your imported turf.
Get this: Of the estimated 7 billion gallons used each day for landscape irrigation, 50 percent is wasted due to runoff, evaporation, or simple overwatering. Our homes may be our castles, but we don't have to create moats to go along with them.
So rather than stand there, hose in hand, without a clue as to what you can do, here are some water-saving ideas to help you better manage your share when you’re outside.
Gutter diverters send the rainwater to your landscape or into rain barrels for storage. Considering that the average home in a temperate region can satisfy its annual outdoor water needs with solely the amount of water that falls on its roof, it’s silly to let rain go to waste. Every inch of rain that falls on a 2,000-square-foot roof totals more than 1,200 gallons.
How many times have you had to step off the sidewalk and into the street because some numbskull had his sprinkler pointed in the wrong direction? It's a common problem. The average sprinkler uses some 240 gallons of water per hour -- all of it wasted if the beneficiary is the patio or sidewalk. Sure, the fix is hard (you have to turn the spout toward the grassy area!) and takes all of 2 seconds, but do us all a favor, please.
Even if you can't pronounce it, you can do it: xeriscape. Xeriscaping means instead of a grassy lawn, you use drought-tolerant plants, stone walkways, mulch, and dirt to create a landscape. An acre designed this way can save about 850,000 gallons of water annually, which is almost enough to supply six homes with their entire water needs for a year.
The bottom line:
Don't overwater. Dousing the landscape literally with water won’t make it any greener. In fact, it’s one of the leading causes of floral death. Most outdoor plants, for example, are given 50 percent more water than they need.
Go natural. Indigenous plants and those that grow easily in the local area are what you should have. Nature usually provides sufficient water for its local habitat. Ban imports.
Maintain the drains. Keeping your gutters clear, your pipes pumping, and your pool clean prevents backups and spillage. Preventive maintenance keeps leaks and floods from ruining your home and the water supply. The average US home leaks 11,000 gallons a year.
Thomas M. Kostigen is the author of The Green Blue Book: The Simple Water-Savings Guide to Everything in Your Life (Rodale) in bookstores on March 22, World Water Day. www.thegreenbluebook.com.