A swath of the Western states are experiencing abnormal dryness and drought conditions. California is experiencing an epic drought that has sparked mandatory water saving restrictions for the first time in the state’s history!
With water conservation top of mind these days for much of the country, building owners and operators face a unique set of challenges. On one hand, they must comply with restrictions and do their part to save water. On the other hand, a business’ facility or campus is a reflection of its brand reputation. Tenants and their customers expect to see a well-kept, well-landscaped property. This first impression is critical for business.
So it’s important to find a balance between saving water and presenting a neat, clean, well-manicured facility.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), outdoor water use in the U.S. accounts for more than 9 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!
And because more than 50% of water use takes place outdoors, this is a great place to concentrate water conservation efforts. Listed here are five creative ways to keep up facility appearances while stopping outdoor water waste, efficiently meeting water restrictions, and mitigating risk of higher water rates:
#1 – Educate and Consult
The first thing is to get educated on any of your state’s water restrictions and conservation programs so you can raise awareness among peers, employees, and tenants on the most efficient and intelligent use of water. Also, it’s critical to know your property grounds and their water requirement needs so you can properly assess and implement the appropriate water conservation solutions for your specific landscapes.
If you don’t have the time or resources to fully learn about the topics and solutions, it might be best to work with a grounds maintenance consultant such as ABM Landscape & Turf. A consultant can not only give expert advice and guidance but also provide innovative ways to implement any needed changes as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible, as well as take advantage of any money-saving rebate programs. As experts in landscaping services, the right partner will have the experience to assess your property and its needs and be able to customize a plan that provides maximum conservation at minimum cost with the least amount of disruption for customers and employees.
#2 – Replace Sprinklers
A simple and relatively inexpensive thing you can do is 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. Conventional spray irrigation systems distribute water over a broad area by means of fixed or moving rotor or mist head sprinkler devices. However, the sprinklers are not very targeted and end up watering everything in the area – including sidewalks and streets. They can also overlap and are subject to evaporation, wind, and runoff. This wastes a lot of 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 there is no risk of accidentally watering walkways, paths, and roads. Also, when water is delivered slowly and steadily to the plants, there is less tendency to over water and less waste from runoff.
Jet sprayers are an efficient solution for a drip irrigation system when a higher volume of water is required but a standard spray body sprinkler head will be too much for the location. Jet sprayers offer a more controlled spray pattern than conventional spray-type sprinklers so they use less water.
Depending on the size of the landscape, converting traditional sprinklers to either Jet Spray or Micro Spray can reduce water usage between 30% and 60%.
#3 – Get Smart Controllers
Another thing is to smarten up conventional automated watering 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. Often, schedules are set once and then are never changed. So a lot of times the landscape is being watered in the winter as if it were the middle of summer. Clock timers also have no ability to monitor and understand the current weather conditions — how many times have you seen sprinklers in operation while it is raining or conditions were very moist?
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 your irrigation system during raining or freezing conditions.
By applying water only when and where it is needed, you can significantly decrease overwatering and reduce water use and costs while maintaining a healthy, well-kept landscape. Depending on the weather and landscape, smart controllers have the potential to reduce water consumption up to 70%.
#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:
All irrigation systems are vulnerable to system leaks and catastrophic mainline breaks. These system failures can result in massive amounts of water waste as well as expensive water bills and plant loss. 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.
Wi-Fi and Software
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 — all from a smart phone or device. The amount of data that can be captured, analyzed, and available for viewing is amazing — including gallons used, averages, comparisons, savings, and much more. Access to this multitude of up-to-the minute data helps to:
- More accurately manage water resources and optimize savings
- Quickly identify trends and anticipate potential issues
- Make more informed business decisions
#5 – Embrace Drought Tolerant Landscape
Of course the most efficient thing you 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, the right drought tolerant landscape can provide color and texture and offer a beautiful grounds presentation.
Luckily, drought tolerant plants are not limited to cacti and succulents. There are thousands of species of flowers, shrubs, vines, and ground covers that have low-water needs and could save more than 50% of the water used in a more traditional landscape. Also, using native plants that grow naturally in your climate need only about half as much water as non-native species.
Mulch is very important to a drought tolerant landscape. Using mulch and compost improves soil quality, reduces evaporation, and encourages water absorption. Some states are providing incentives and rebates to encourage businesses to go to a drought tolerant landscape.
Also, landscape companies such as ABM Landscape & Turf are providing innovative low- and no-cost financial options that provide guaranteed water and energy savings and allow you to fund the entire project with the future savings. There is minimal capital required upfront and there is zero impact to the existing operating budget. Click here for more details.