Five Ways To Conserve Water For Landscapes

Take a look around facility grounds to identify water efficiency opportunities.

By David Silva, CWM, CLIA, QWEL
From the April 2022 Issue

Smart management of landscape water pays big dividends. Here in drought-prone California, consistent periods of drought have meant improving and creating new ways to save water. Laws like California’s Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance now dictate certain landscapes are required to have more low water use plants, reduce overhead spray, increase the use of mulch, and establish a maximum water allowance. Modern landscapes are requiring less labor, chemicals, and fertilizer while requiring the use of more water-efficient irrigation components. These basic principles are a fundamental element of the California Landscape Contractors Association’s Certified Water Manager (CWM) Certification for irrigation professionals, and they are your tools in saving water while having a beautiful landscape.

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Like the landscapes, a shift is happening for the people that maintain them. Facility managers can also be shifting away from a “repair” mindset to a “stewardship” mindset whereby your team are caretakers of a valued green space in your community. In addition to mowing and maintenance, landscape management is about adopting sustainable practices that reduce chemicals, decrease yard waste, and save water. Central to all of this is the understanding that the basis of all living landscapes is dependent on water. The stewards of the industry must begin to realize that irrigation should be managed by smart individuals and not just by relying on smart controllers.

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Water conservation can be improved at commercial facilities using a combination of strategies, including proper installation and maintenance of irrigation systems and processes. (Photos: (top) Adobe Stock; (bottom) courtesy of Hunter Industries)

According to Andrew Chase, CWM, of Monarch Environmental Services, a landscape management consulting service for many homeowners’ associations in Southern California: “In working with many commercial properties and institutions, I feel they all have the same basic needs. However, the type and status of the property generally determine the level of care, or maintenance, performed. From a strip mall to a high-end commercial property, the need for basic irrigation maintenance is still the same. Managed landscape sites must be inspected monthly, have regular adjustments, and be maintained consistently. Irrigation management should be a priority.”

If the facility you are managing includes a landscape, you should develop a plan to improve the water management of that landscape. Here are some of the basic items to address:

1. Taking Advantage Of Professional Certification And Education. Finding irrigation professional certifying organizations (PCOs) has never been easier. There are many certification programs already vetted by the federal government. A list of PCOs exists on the EPA WaterSense website¹ which provides the names and websites of the approved irrigation training programs. If members of your facility management team are not already certified by one of these programs, consider it. There are low-cost and subsidized programs available for sensible landscape water management. Landscape professionals can obtain certification by attending training, passing a written exam, and submitting continuing education units (CEUs) annually.

2. More Proactive Management And Regular Inspections. As a result of proper training, a certified irrigation professional should be capable of performing standard inspections on existing landscapes. If conducted regularly and properly, facility managers should find possible leaks, malfunctioning equipment, and spot other issues thus, saving thousands of gallons of water. This requires an inspection of the irrigation system and a review of an irrigation efficiency checklist. Proactive water managers should be inspecting their landscape’s irrigation and documenting their findings weekly. Facility managers must read the site’s water meter regularly to monitor usage and potentially diagnose sub-surface water leaks which may not be visible during the initial inspection.

3. Implementation Of Water Budgets. How can anyone manage what they don’t measure? If your facility managers are not monitoring your landscape’s water usage, they should be. For teams already conducting regular landscape maintenance, reading the site’s water meter should be added to their list of duties. Doing this helps you analyze how much water your delivery system is distributing weekly, monthly, and annually. Bonus! Regularly reading your meter will help you to find and repair leaks, thus resulting in water and dollar savings. The use of a landscape water budget is the ideal way to keep track and monitor water use. Many may not know that there is a scientific amount of water a landscape should use, given the weather, your landscape’s square footage, and plant types. Knowing the exact water needs of the landscape can help you effectively create irrigation schedules and program the controller to this set water budget.

4. Increased Use Of Available Water Efficient Technology. Perpetual droughts and demand for more sustainable landscapes, means manufacturers have been more innovative with more water-efficient devices and technology options than ever before. One of the most exciting achievements over the last few years is the rise of remote management where central controllers can now be accessed by your phone or laptop. Mike Madewell, CWM, of Hunter Industries, a manufacturer of irrigation products, says, “Some of our products that utilize remote management have been popular. The demand for cloud connectivity has been through the roof. Facility owners no longer want to pay high subscription fees for connection. Controllers that utilize WiFi and LAN connections are the way to go when facilities integrate them within their IT networks. This allows facilities to collaborate and simplify communication between the grounds team and senior management.”

Beyond controllers, devices like pressure regulating spray bodies, rotating nozzles, and soil moisture sensors are available to improve irrigation efficiency. Bonus! Most of these products are available for rebates by some water providers.

5. Establishing An Open Communication With Your Water Provider. Most water providers want to help customers reduce their water bills. Some have dedicated conservation personnel on staff in addition to the previously mentioned rebates on water efficiency products. Others even help with water budgets and will inspect your system to identify improvements to the site’s irrigation efficiency. In California, some water providers have turf replacement programs that incentivize property owners to convert turf to low water-use landscapes. In some cases, these turf replacement rebates can be anywhere from $1-$4 per square foot of turf removed and can help to further long-term landscape water savings. The bottom line is to think about reaching out to your local water provider to inquire about how they can assist you in meeting your facility’s water management goals.

In Conclusion

Implementing these five practices can help facility managers take a positive step towards water savings and making your landscape more sustainable. Consider investing time and money in these best management practices, especially if the facility is in an area where water is in high demand and short supply. You might be pleasantly surprised with the increased water savings and overall improvement in the appearance of your facility’s landscape.

References

¹ https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/www3/watersense/outdoor/cert_programs.html

landscape waterSilva, CWM, CLIA, QWEL oversees the California Landscape Contractors Association’s (CLCA) Water Management Certification program. He is a resource to CLCA members, the industry, and the public on water efficient landscaping. A Certified Water Manager, a Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor, and Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper, Silva works with industry professionals, consumers, government leaders, and other water stakeholders.

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below, or send an e-mail to the Editor at acosgrove@groupc.com.

Check out all the facility management topics covered in Facility Executive magazine’s Services & Maintenance articles.

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