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Is your garden wasting water?

Matt Zalaznick
Lewis Atencio fixes the pattern of his lawn sprinkler at his Gypsum home.
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Most gardeners in the mountains could use less water and still have healthier plants and flowers, says Mike Bauer, a horticulturalist with the Colorado State University extension program in Eagle County.

Because many gardeners over-water their plants, Bauer says, managers of local water supplies are hoping residents, despite the easing of drought conditions, will learn to use the High Country’s most precious resource more conscientiously.

“Most landscapes are over-watered,” Bauer says. “We can have beautiful gardens, but we have to be smart about it.”

Learn to audit

The learning process can begin this Saturday at a training session aimed at teaching gardeners to audit their water use in they same way they would audit their finances. The class is sponsored by the Colorado State University extension program and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District.

Both professionals and homeowners should learn how to measure the amount of water they’re using, Bauer says.

“Over-watering is just as harmful,” as under-watering, Bauer says.

The measurements are done with a “tool kit” comprising pressure gauges and other equipment that can analyze water use in a garden or landscape, Bauer says.

The gauges, for example, can measure how evenly water is being spread by a sprinkler system. The audit can show if some plants are being either over-watered or missed by the sprinklers, or if water is evaporating, Bauer says.

The measurements should also determine how much water specific plants need, as not all require the same amount of water to stay healthy, green or in bloom, Bauer says.

“We anticipate quite a bit of water savings on a lot of these systems,” Bauer says. “I think we’ll save 30 to 40 percent on most systems.”

Methods differ

The audits involve some mathematical formulas, so a calculator would be another helpful piece of equipment, Bauer says.

But their also some very simple ways to determine how much water a landscape needs.

“Take a ball of soil in your hand. If it falls apart easily, it needs water; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t,” Bauer says

And a non-technical way to prevent water from being wasted by spilling it over into driveways and streets, is not to plant grass up to the edge of the pavement, Bauer says.

Their is also a method, called xeriscaping, in which gardeners strategically plant native species that use less water. More information on xeriscaping techniques can be found at: http://www.xratedgardening.com.

The completed irrigation audit will produce a watering schedule that will guide homeowners in re-setting the timers that turn their sprinkler systems on and off, Bauer says.

“This will show people when to water and for how long,” Bauer says.

The schedule would likely change month to month throughout the growing season, he says.

“We also want them to go out and measure how much water we’re saving after making changes,” Bauer says.

The training costs $150, but is free for residents who volunteer to audit gardens for the water district this summer, Bauer says.

“We can cut water use by about a third and improve the health of plants,” Bauer says.

Healthy habits

Though water supplies are rebounding after last summer’s shortages, local water managers want mountain residents to develop water use habits in and outside their gardens that will prepare them for future droughts, says Leslie Isom, with the Eagle Valley Water and Sanitation District.

“We want people to develop healthy habits, such as doing only full loads of dishes in dishwasher and full loads of laundry,” Isom says.

“We’re trying to educate everyone because it takes time for people to develop habits,” she says, “so when we have the next true drought, everyone will have developed better habits and we’ll still be in good shape.”

Learn healthy water habits

The irrigation audit training session is 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in the Garden Classroom at the Eagle County Building in Eagle.

– The course begins in the classroom with a look at the seven principles of waterwise gardening. After a break for lunch, the class will move outdoors to conduct an actual water audit.

– Those interested in the course have two options: volunteer to conduct 20 hours of landscape irrigation audits for the extension program during the early part of the summer; or pay the fee of $150 payable to Colorado State University Extension.

For more information, contact: Marie-Christine Carel at the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, 476-7480.

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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