California Drought Restrictions: 5 Strategies

By Brian Steele

This year’s record low snow pack and continued lack of rain fall has plunged California into epic drought conditions. And as this drought stretches into its fourth straight year—and is expected to continue into a fifth, Governor Jerry Brown recently signed an executive order declaring a state of drought emergency and imposed mandatory water saving restrictions for the first time in California’s history.FE-WebOnlylogo

Governor Brown’s directive aims to cut water usage by 25% within nine months and mandates a shift towards water-efficient devices and practices statewide. The order imposes varying degrees of cutbacks on water use across the board—affecting homeowners and commercial and industrial businesses alike.

In practical terms, the new restrictions include:

  • 25% reduction in total potable water use across the state versus 2013 consumption
  • 50 million square feet replacement of lawns and ornamental turf
  • Increased focus on water efficiency for commercial, institutional, and industrial properties (e.g. golf courses, campuses and cemeteries)
  • No watering of ornamental turf on street medians
  • New homes and buildings will need to be irrigated completely with micro irrigation products
  • New rate structures

How Does This Affect My Facilities?
Business owners are facing new challenges. On one hand, they must support the state’s water conservation plan and comply with the new restrictions like everyone else. As a member of the business community, they are even expected to go above and beyond—taking a leadership stance on environmental stewardship and being a role model for improving water management and enhancing water efficiency.

(Source: U.S. Drought Monitor)
(Source: U.S. Drought Monitor)

On the other hand, a business’ facility is a reflection of its brand reputation. Customers and prospects expect to see a well-kept, well-landscaped property. This first impression is critical to winning new sales. So, it is important that businesses find a balance between saving water and presenting a clean and well-manicured facility to enhance the customer experience, live up to their corporate reputation, and ultimately help generate revenue.

5 Things Commercial Buildings Can Do
Because more than 50% of water use takes place outdoors, this is an opportune area to concentrate your water conservation efforts. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), outdoor water use in the United States accounts for more than nine billion gallons of water each day, mainly for landscape irrigation. Their experts estimate that because of inefficiencies in irrigation methods and control systems overwatering wastes as much as half of this water.

Listed here are the top five things facility managment professionals can do to stop outdoor water waste, efficiently meet the new 25% water reduction, and mitigate risk of fines and higher water rates—all while maintaining a facility’s appearance.

#1 Educate and Consult
The very first thing you can do is to understand the new government directives and how they relate to your facility. You should educate yourself so you can raise awareness among your peers, employees, and customers on the most efficient and intelligent use of water.

Also, it’s critical to know your grounds and their water requirement needs so you can properly assess and implement the appropriate water conservation solutions for the specific landscapes. If you are unsure of what the new restrictions mean to your business, or you don’t have the time or resources to fully learn about the mandates and how your company can comply, it might be best to work with a grounds maintenance consultant. A consultant can also educate you on incentives being offered for companies implementing water-saving technology and products.

#2 Replace Sprinklers
A simple and relatively inexpensive way of meeting the new directives is to convert traditional spray-type sprinklers to jet sprinklers or a drip system in appropriate areas.

Spray irrigation has traditionally been the more common method for domestic, municipal, and commercial gardens and lawns. But spray irrigation wastes water—as much as 50% of the water used for irrigation.

Drip systems are a much more efficient method of irrigating landscapes with plants and shrubs. Water is delivered slowly and directly to the roots of the plants via a hose that is basically full of little holes. Because drip irrigation systems deliver moisture directly to the roots of plants, there is much less water lost to evaporation and wind drift than with traditional spray irrigation systems, and this removes the risk of inadvertently watering walkways, paths, and roads.

Depending on the size of thelandscape, converting traditional sprinklers to either jet spray or micro spray can reduce water usage between 30% and 60%.

#3 Get Smart Controllers
You can also smarten up conventional automated wagering systems with smart irrigation controllers.

The most common method used to schedule landscape irrigation is manually programmed clock timers. These systems can be a significant source of wasted water because they are not automated and rely on human interaction.

Weather-based, “smart” irrigation controllers have built-in sensors that monitor the local weather and landscape conditions in real time and automatically adjust the irrigation amount, frequency, and timing accordingly. This creates a dynamic watering schedule based on current situations, peak demands, and seasonal change—there is no human intervention necessary so there are fewer errors and waste. The sensors also provide quick response in shutting down an irrigation system during raining or freezing conditions.

Smart controllers have the potential to reduce water consumption up to 70%.

While using smart controllers seems like a no-brainer, the EPA estimates that less than 10% of irrigation systems use them. One reason might be due to upfront costs. Although they may seem expensive, some municipalities are offering rebates that cover a lot of the upfront costs for the initial investment and greatly reduce return on investment.

For more information on smart controllers or other sensor-based irrigation control systems incentives and rebates, facility professionals can work with a landscape and grounds consultant and visit the following websites:
Southern California Rebates
Northern California
Oregon Rebates
Washington Rebates

#4 Leverage Advanced Monitoring Technology
If you already have an existing weather-based controlled irrigation system, you can add more innovative resource management tools and technology that optimize water monitoring, control, and efficiency. Components that can be added include:

Flow sensors measure the amount of water flowing through an irrigation system and are popular and affordable devices that can be installed to detect and automatically shut down the irrigation system when breaks, malfunctions, or vandalism occur.

Traditional flow sensors are wired. There are also new wireless flow sensors that provide real-time water use visibility and leak alerts and allow you to instantly shut down a system right from your smart phone or device. Not only does this reduce water loss, it also eliminates rush repair fees and minimizes landscape damage.

Advances in wireless technology and mobile software solutions are taking weather-based controllers and flow sensors to the next level. This technology now allows you to communicate in real-time with any sensor, anywhere, anytime.

Another tool is a monitoring subscription. Most of these types of technologies come with monthly monitoring and subscription fees. However the fees are relatively minimal and there are incentives that help provide a reduced ROI.

#5 Embrace Drought Tolerant Landscape
Of course the most efficient thing facility professionals can do is transition from a traditional turf and shrub grounds to a drought tolerant landscape. This is a long-term solution that can carry a heavier upfront financial burden; but over the lifetime of the facility will provide the most water saving benefits—up to 50% less water used and much lower water and energy bills.

A drought tolerant landscape consists of plants that require very little or no water, rocks, granite pathways and courtyards, large boulders, artificial turf, mulch, and more. Not only does this type of landscape reduce water usage, it also requires minimal maintenance. And while not traditional, a well chosen drought tolerant landscape can provide color and texture and create a beautiful grounds for a facility.

Water Wise Innovation
No matter how hard we try, the fact is we can’t make new water for California. What these helpful tips do show us though is that what we can do is make much better use of the water we do have. By doing due diligence and consulting experts, facility management professionals can find the innovative solutions and technology and money-saving financial options that can help maximize water conservation, meet and beat the new drought restrictions, and maintain the desired appearance of facilities.

Steele is Region Operations Manager for ABM Landscape and Turf Services.