There are ways to maintain a green lawn while using less water

There are ways to maintain a green lawn while using less water

Watering and lawns: how to do more with much less

It sounds counter-intuitive, but using less water - and watering more wisely - can help your lawn thrive.

Erik Poole

Water is the new scarce resource that people do—and will—continue to battle over into the near future. On the positive side, Canadians have reduced their water consumption in recent years, in part thanks to the increasing use of meters and volume pricing. Environment Canada says that metered Canadian household use 73% less water than households on a flat-rate water pricing scheme.

Ashcroft council has decided to push water metering down the road, and instead implement irrigation time restrictions. Council would like residents to collectively consume less water in order to reduce the expected costs of a new water treatment plant.

It is unlikely that time and day restrictions would have the same impact as a well-designed volume pricing scheme. That said, consider what Greater Vancouverites and other coast dwellers have done in the absence of metering. Most do not irrigate their lawns at all, and allow them to turn yellow and brown in the summer. In many neighbourhoods, those who do irrigate their lawns stand out like sore thumbs.

It is an interesting social convention, given that the financial penalty for watering is zero. In the hot semi-arid interior of B.C., not watering at all would kill lawns, so that specific convention is unrealistic in this region. In the same spirit, if residents come together and decide what water uses can be sacrificed, then the result will be the same:  lower water consumption.

There exist a number of reasons why Ashcroft residents would individually and collectively seek to reduce water use. Many may simply love the Thompson River and the watershed that nourishes it, and recognize that all water users will have to show restraint going forward.  Reducing future utility bills also seems like a good idea.

For some, reduced water consumption will have the side-benefit of a healthier lawn better able to withstand unexpected shocks like unusually extended hot, dry periods. Here are some suggestions as to how to conserve water and have a healthier lawn by doing more with less.

Cut the grass high. Taller grass dehydrates more slowly than short grass, and chokes out weeds more effectively.

Push-reel mowers typically offer more flexibility to set the cut height high. Some of the newer models are light, easy to use, and very sharp. They are also quieter, and free of small particulate emissions.

Leave the clippings on the lawn as mulch. The lawn clippings are rich in nitrogen and water, and they slow the rate of evaporation.

Consider watering the lawn every four days, but give it a good soaking so the roots are encouraged to go deeper.

Unlike coastal B.C., not watering the lawn at all is an unattractive option in this region. During periods where temperatures hover near 40° C, every four days may not be enough.

On the other hand, if all the steps mentioned have been followed, the lawn should be much more resilient to periods of exceptionally warm, dry air, and will simply require less additional watering during occasional periods of wretched heat. The key is to deeply soak the ground and manage the lawn so as to reduce evaporation and encourage deeper root growth.

No timer? Get one! For many residents, the simple addition of a scheduler-timer to a hose connected sprinkler system will increase control and allow the system to be used at night while people are asleep, or when people are absent. The watering duration can be decreased or increased with precision. Typically, some experimentation will be required to get the mount of water right. A scheduler-timer reduces the guesswork.

The Village Office has a kit available free of charge to Ashcroft residents that contains more tips on water conservation. It also contains a handy moisture reader, and an irrigation spray collection meter that can provide valuable information to anybody adjusting their irrigation system.

So far this summer, the region has been blessed with cooler weather and frequent rains. Now is a good time to get the yard ready before the scorching, dry heat of summer arrives.