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THE LATEST DIRT ON WATER CONSERVATION

For many Texans, the ongoing drought has been a wakeup call that water is not an unlimited resource. Unless some changes are made, the state’s burgeoning population will outstrip its water supplies in a few decades.

Sure, building reservoirs and other infrastructure will be an important part of meeting the growing demand, but officials are also counting on each of us to help get the most out of our water supply by practicing conservation.

You may have heard of such water conservation techniques as fixing a leaking faucet or washing only full loads of clothes or dishes. But people all the time are coming up with innovative ideas to reduce water waste. Here are a few new-fangled conservation ideas for both indoors and outdoors.


Be an ENERGY STAR; use WaterSense

While there are many little things each of us can do to save water around the house, what if the appliances and plumbing fixtures we use were designed to meet high standards of water conservation. That’s the goal of two partnership programs sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency: WaterSense and ENERGY STAR.

The WaterSense Program seeks to help consumers choose toilets, faucets and showerheads and other products that will conserve water and save money in the long run without sacrificing performance. Products and services that have earned the WaterSense label have been certified to be at least 20 percent more efficient than average products.

For instance, a toilet with a WaterSense label would use 1.28 gallons of water in a flush, compared to the federal standard of 1.6 gallons. That may not sound like a lot, but it adds up. According to the EPA, by installing a WaterSense labeled toilet, the average family can reduce water used for toilets by 20 to 60 percent. That totals nearly 13,000 gallons of water saved each year! Over the lifetime of the toilet that could mean about $2,200 in saving off one’s water bill.

Those that choose to update their home plumbing may find a bonus incentive in the form of a rebate from WaterSense participating partners. Two cities within the Brazos River basin offer rebates to those that purchase WaterSense rated toilets. The Cities of College Station and Round Rock offer rebates for the replacement of water saving toilets. For information , click here.

ENERGY STAR promotes appliances that reduce power usage (and the resulting emissions from coal and gas burning power plants) as well as water consumption. For instance, clothes washers with the ENERGY STAR label use 70 percent less energy and 75 percent less water to get the job done than a standard washer used 20 years ago, according to the EPA. These use sophisticated wash systems to flip or spin clothes through a stream of water. They also rinse clothes with repeated high-pressure spraying instead of soaking them in a full tub of water. In addition to clothes washers, the Energy Star designation is used on dishwashers, refrigerators, heating and cooling systems and a wide range of other appliances. To learn more about both of these programs, please click here.


Train your lawn and educate yourself

Drought conditions can be hard on Texas lawns but they don’t have to be fatal. You might not know this but you can train your lawn to use less water and withstand Texas inevitable dry spells.

First, infrequent but deep watering can help your lawn become more drought tolerant. By watering longer and less often, your lawn will establish deeper roots. Deep roots put up with drought better and require less water than shallow roots.

To encourage deep roots, water your lawn until the top 6 inches of soil is wet. You can check this by pushing a garden spade into the soil. The spade should easily push through the wet soil. Once the soil is sufficiently wet, don’t water again until it is truly needed, when footprints are left behind for an extended period of time or when the blades of grass begin to roll or fold.

Another way to direct your lawn to be water wise is to let it grow taller by not mowing as often and when you do have to mow keep the blade at a higher level than normal. Try not to cut more than a third of the leaf blade during each mow. Grass that is cut short needs more water to make it grow. When you do mow, leave the clippings on the lawn. They serve as a natural and free fertilizer, helping your lawn stay green.

While you are at it, why not take the opportunity to educate yourself about Xeriscaping, rainwater harvesting or other conservation-related horticulture techniques. Xeriscaping is a way to create a landscape using plants and grasses that are native to the area. In Texas that means they are suited to drier climates and thus use less water.

Master Gardener programs and city governments around the state regularly offer classes on water wise landscaping techniques, as has the Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Extension Service. But even if you can’t find a training session near you, don’t fret. Many such classes are offered online. To find an Extension office or Master Gardner program or peruse some online class offerings related to water conservation, please click here.


Water with precision

When one thinks of the sounds of summer, the click-click-click of a rotary sprinkler is right up there with the trill of cicadas in the trees, the steady hum of lawn mowers and distant music from an ice cream truck. Though they might hold sentimental value for some, these sprinklers and other varieties that spray water over a large area are not the most efficient way to water one’s landscape or garden. Much of the water is lost in the air and they are not useful when you want to target a small area.

Soaker hoses are more efficient, because they usually weep water into the soil instead of spraying it into air. However, they typically release water along their length, including between plants. Watering using a hand-held water wand placed close to the soil near a plant is more efficient. However, if you don’t have the time or inclination to water each plant by hand, you might consider a drip irrigation system. This allows one to slowly release water at specific sites instead of the entire length of the hose. Connecting it to a timer, one can carefully regulate how much water the plants get.

And one need not be intimidated or pay an expert to install a drip irrigation system. These days one can find the materials at hardware stores or other retailers. The systems can be bought in inexpensive ready-to-install kits or piecemeal so one can assemble as large a layout as desired. To learn more about drip irrigation, please click here.

Horticulture has been around for thousands of years, but innovations in conservation and the way we grow our lawns, gardens and other plants we use will continue. These are but a few ideas for saving water, if you would like to explore the issue further, please check out the Brazos River Authority’s water conservation pages, here.