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Irrigation Association of New York

Water Sustainability – It starts with your lawn

As we enter the doldrums of winter, the thoughts of green lawns and lush landscaping are just a memory at this time. This now provides water suppliers much need time to plan perform facility maintenance to prepare for the peak spring and summer water pumping season. The warm weather months will increase our outdoor activities and water use dramatically. Therefore it is never too early to plan ahead for water sustainability.

Typical daily average residential water use on Long Island is approximately 140 gallons per person. Water utilization is typically relegated to indoor use during the cold winter months, with less than 4 percent being used for actual consumption. Remarkably during the summer, average water use more than doubles compared to winter usage. Peak summer pumpage is more than triple average winter usage, as illustrated below for a typical Long Island water system.

So what causes this dramatic increase in water use when the weather gets warm? Obviously hot and dry weather conditions and the desire to keep our lawns nice and green are the culprits. However, over the past three decades the installation of residential automatic underground lawn irrigations systems has significantly contributed to escalated summertime water use. Such systems are more prevalent as means to increase real estate values, and as residents place a higher emphasis on property beautification through landscaping investment and maintenance.

The ease of use and automatic operation of the irrigation systems make lawn and landscape watering a simple task that requires little thought and effort. Since water is abundant on Long Island and costs tend to be very low when compared to other utilities, there is very little incentive to conserve our precious natural resource. However long term changes in weather patterns can significantly impact our groundwater resource. All we need to do is look to the West Coast and take note of the significant effects of the drought in California. During the 1960’s Long Island experienced a long-term drought that drastically lowered groundwater elevations. In this era of climate change, history can and probably will repeat itself. Therefore now is the time to develop good habits and simple sustainable practices that will promote the efficient use our vital drinking water supply.

Studies disseminated by the local county Cornell Cooperative Extensions have concluded that lawns on Long Island tend to be over-irrigated. It has been determined that the irrigation of lawns every other day at a rate of 1 inch per week is sufficient for most areas of Long Island. Because of the significant water use associated with lawn irrigation, it is easy to identify lawnsprinkling measures as a logical and simple approach to promote the efficient use of the drinking water supply.

So what can the typical resident do to become a sustainable water user while maintain a green landscape? Start by watering every other day rather than every day. Daily watering is not necessary and too much water can actually cause more harm than good to lawns. To minimize water loss through evaporation, avoid irrigating on windy days and when temperatures are at the highest – generally midday between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.

Take advantage of simple, low-cost technology to promote water sustainability. Smart controllers and rain sensors on lawn irrigation systems will automatically adjust water usage based on weather and soil-moisture conditions. The sensors can override an automated timer and shut the system down during rain events. Similarly moisture sensors can sense the moisture in the soil and can override the system controller to avoid overwatering. Don’t be surprised if there will be an App out for that in the near future!

Outdoor water sustainability is simple, effective and makes sense. All it starts is with you and your lawn. Saving water today will ensure an abundant supply for now and well into the future.

written by Paul Granger,superintendent of the Port Washington Water District.