Water Sources

Editor’s Note: Parks & Rec Business magazine presents the third part in a year-long series of articles devoted to park landscaping and grounds maintenance, Landscaper’s Corner. Please let us know if there’s a subject you’d like to see covered in this series, or if you have a unique project or perspective you’d like to share with your peers. Please drop us a line at editor@northstarpubs.com.

The problem with a general treatise on irrigation and water management is that conditions can vary so radically from place to place. The way Seattle deals with its water will be worlds apart from its relatively close, but far drier neighbor, Yakima.

Some Western states are in a relative crisis, while others are just getting by. Meanwhile, states and regions in high rainfall areas are probably more concerned with runoff than drought.

However, drought can affect areas that normally get good rainfall, so long-range preparation for the worst is not only prudent, it’s simply good government.

We recently spoke with a couple of experts from the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), based in Austin. Though they mentioned the difficulty in providing a one-size-fits-all solution, there are important first steps that all agencies should take.

First, is to audit all department water consumption. It’s very important to monitor and measure the output. This provides accountability and can also prove the agency’s conservation success to what can be a cynical council or board.

The additional step toward accountability is to have the department pay its own water bill specific to its usage.

“One of the issues that can be difficult, at least in some cities, is that they don’t always meter their facilities. It may be rolled up into a large municipal figure, so it’s very hard to have accountability. I’ve talked to people who work in water conservation around the country, and some of the hardest folks to convince are those in the parks department, because they’re not paying the bills, so there’s not necessarily a budgetary connection,” says Nora Mullarkey, senior conservation coordinator for LCRA.

“In the West especially, with drought in places in like Colorado and New Mexico, people are being told to quit watering. It’s more of a restriction, versus saving water for the city’s budget. It’s far better to find out what the real drivers are behind parks and recreation cutting back. Is it because there’s no water supply, someone’s asking them to cut back, or some other factor?”

Metering can be expensive, but if it can be shown that the initial cost will be paid for in water — and by extension, cash — savings, it might not be a difficult sell. These efforts should be included in the development and design of new park space and facilities.

Once these issues are resolved a successful audit will provide the baseline for employee training. If, for example, employees who mow athletic fields understand that they need to be especially careful about running over sprinkler heads, and replacing those heads with the correct and compatible heads, the water savings of this simple detail will pay large dividends.

An audit will help point out what bad practices are currently in place, and can be replaced with good practices. For instance, an incompatible replacement head on a sprinkler system will show up in the audit and identify that practice that needs to be corrected.

Mullarkey points out that a clear understanding of what’s driving conservation, plus an audit, will provide better and more precise conservation direction. “In the mid-’80s the city of Austin had a capacity problem, so they retrofitted some of their pools to make them recycling pools. The driver there became a capacity rather than budget issue. The drivers will determine where you focus your efforts,” she says.

Mullarkey also recommends better intergovernmental communication, particularly with the water and water quality departments. It’s a cliché of sorts, but not enough people tap into the importance of networking both outside and inside city, county, state and federal governments.

“What I’d like to get people to focus on is long-term water efficiency. If you’re able to wean your landscape and system so that it can tolerate droughts you’ll be better off in the long run,” says Mullarkey.

Page 1 of 2 | Next page

Related posts:

  1. Water Tap
  2. Washing Water
  3. The Water-Energy Connection
  4. Water Zones
  5. Wringing Out The Water
  • Columns
  • Departments