Let’s start with the assumption you are an awesome water manager or at least have responsibility for water management on a property. Why would you need a checklist for water management? Creating checklists for routine and complex procedures helps you manage a specific set of parameters on a regular basis. As more tools become available to measure water use, consistency in management is a critical success factor. So, if you can consistently review these four basic items on your landscape you will find yourself saving water, saving money and having a more beautiful, vibrant landscape.
Turf Conversions for Better Water Management
I love turf especially in areas where turf is essential. A few examples of essential areas include sports fields, common areas of homeowners associations where neighbors enjoy outdoor spaces for getting together and in resort properties where guests want to enjoy the outdoors for weddings and other outdoor events. We also see turf in non-essential areas. In the side picture we see a parking lot island with turf. Typically in this situation the turf grows above the curb which helps water run off on to the parking lot. This contributes to having to reseal more often than normal. The parking lot strips with turf are also expensive to maintain. They waste water and waste labor and that’s why I call them stupid strips. We all know of similar areas in some properties where turf doesn’t work.
Another area to check is turf areas touching hardscapes like sidewalks. I often see turf planted in yards as squares surrounded by concrete sidewalks or buildings. We can add a rounded boarder (see second side picture) to these areas replacing turf with some drought tolerant plants use less water and eliminate runoff. This improves water management and can improve aesthetics too.
Today many people are suggesting we remove our lawns completely. I don’t think we need to take such extreme action and many water agencies implementing water budgets are still allowing for turf. The EPAs water budget tool allows for turf too. I worry the ever more popular call to remove all turf is such an extreme view many people are going to be turned off to the water conservation movement. Below are the additional items I would be checking regularly concerning turf on my property:
- Do I have non-functional turf areas I can remove
- Is subsurface irrigation possible
- Do I have steep slopes of turf with runoff that can me eliminated or better managed with a smart controller or multiple start times
Shrub and Annual Beds
During the construction boom of the late 80s and 90s there were millions of spray heads installed in shrub and annual beds. We have since learned spray heads are not an efficient way to water our landscapes. I recommend you check for the following items in your shrub and annual beds:
- Are there spray heads I can convert to drip irrigation
- Have any shrubs grown so large they are blocking spay heads and making it tough to water efficiently.
- Can I replace any high water use plants with more drought tolerant plants
Efficient and Uniform Distribution
Irrigation systems should be designed to be efficient and distribute water uniformly across the landscape. Installation should be completed per the design and then maintained properly so the integrity of the system remains strong. Design, installation and maintenance contribute to maintaining a healthy landscape while maximizing water savings. Regular checks of the following will be a factor for a more efficient and uniform system:
- Do I need to replace any nozzles
- Can any spray heads be changed to high efficiency nozzles
- Are there any sprays and rotors on the same zone
- Is there too much pressure causing misting and wasting water
- Are there any heads sitting too low or tilted
Controllers and Programming
Installing smart controllers or accurately programming traditional controllers is often the easiest and most cost effective way to maximize water savings. Even traditional controllers have a wide variety of features and watering options for saving water and need to be programmed so the water saving features are utilized and water savings is maximized. Below is a basic checklist for controllers:
- Do I have rain sensors attached to all controllers to automatically turn the irrigation off when it rains
- Am I making regular adjustments to a traditional controller based on ET
- Would programming multiple start times reduce runoff
- Can I convert the traditional controller to a smart controller
Remember this checklist is just a start. But if you are not implementing some type of checklist today using this one may significantly reduce your water use. As water becomes more scarce and more expensive, tools like this checklist can help us better manage this precious resource.