Posted by Tom Fitz
Tom Fitz
Tom utilizes over eighteen years of manufacturing experience to help companies c
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on Tuesday, 24 January 2012
in Insights

Brown Better Than Green?

Is Lawn Irrigation a Good Use of Our Drinking Water

I’ve always wondered how homeowners can continue watering their grass during a drought with a clear conscience. Sure, a nicely manicured green lawn is appealing, but is it worth depleting valuable drinking water to attain such a trivial asset?

Water, water everywhere, but only a small percentage is fresh

We all know the fact - approximately 70% of the Earth’s surface is water, and of that, only 3% is fresh water. Now comes the troubling data- 70% of the fresh water used in the world is for irrigation, 22% in industry, and the remaining 8% for household usage (i.e.- drinking, bathing, cooking and gardening).   How will we sustain life if we continue to deplete our valuable fresh water sources with such unsustainable practices?

Water balances, the key to identifying opportunities

After performing a water balance on my household a few years back, I identified two primary violators that comprised the bulk of our water usage – showers and irrigation. So how did we address the issue? First, we agreed collectively as a family that all showers taken would not exceed five minutes with the water running; in essence, we take a five minute Navy shower.

Next, we stopped using our irrigation system except for 10 days in the fall after we’ve had our lawn re-seeded. Our front lawn has nine sprinkler heads with a flow rate of 3 GPM, and our typically run for 20 minutes, twice a day, three days per week. That equates to over 3,200 gallons of water saved per week. Assuming most homeowners in my area water on average five months per year, we’re saving approximately 65,000 gallons of water annually.

My conscience won’t let me water

Does our grass turn brown during the summer months? Absolutely. Is it unattractive? Yes, but during the summer we’ve adopted the motto “Brown is Beautiful”. So, if I can save more than 65,000 gallons of water annually by turning off my irrigation system, what could my housing development do by adopting similar practices? The state of NC? The entire US? What if corporations, whose headquarters sit on tens of hundreds of manicured acres, abandoned their irrigation systems? We would as a country, undoubtedly, make a huge impact on our fresh water footprint.

The following are a few good examples of companies looking to reduce the amount of water used for irrigation:

  • Toro has invested countless dollars supporting research and development activities to design irrigation equipment that maintains landscapes with less water. Because trees, shrubs, flowers and healthy turf are a vital sources of oxygen, their belief is that irrigation bans are not the answer to reduce water usage, but identifying water efficient technologies should be the focal point.

  • Cisco saved an estimated 11.5 million gallons of irrigation water at its largest campus in San Jose, a 10% savings year-on-year, by implementing a range of conservation initiatives in 2009. In 2010, they implemented a slew of new initiatives which saved an additional 43 million gallons.

What did homeowners do before irrigation systems existed? They let their lawns turn brown, which is my mode of operation. Those who pride themselves on having a green lawn should investigate improved irrigation technologies, similar to those developed by Toro, as a means to continue irrigating while using 50% less water. The other alternative would be to adopt the principles of Xeriscaping. Whatever your decision, let’s make sure we all use fresh water wisely.  

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