Landscapers trying to use less water, stay green
How dry we are, how dry we’ll be.
Colorado seems to be facing another more severe summer the persistent drought that’s gripped the state for the last several years. But that doesn’t mean residents need to give up on flowers and lawns for sagebrush and rocks.
Landscape planners at the town of Vail are designing this summer’s plantings now. The town’s landscaping will remain colorful, according to Todd Oppenheimer, the town’s director of capital projects. The secret is using plants with a “XXX” rating, he said.
The ratings, which are fairly new, indicate how much water a plant uses. An “X” rated plant uses more, while a “XXX” plant requires less watering. The good news is that the town was already using a lot of “XXX” plants in its landscape designs, including cosmos, zinnias and California poppies. Over the last few years the town has cut back, but not completely eliminated, more water-hungry flowers such as pansies, from its landscaping palette.
“This wasn’t a difficult switch at all,” Oppenheimer said.
What has been complex is tying most of the town’s irrigation systems into a computer server at the Vail Municipal Building. That server is tied into a weather station. The system provides immediate information on the “evaporative transpiration” rate, that is, the amount of watering a plant needs.
“The system was put in place before we knew we were in drought conditions,” said Larry Pardee, Vail’s streets and maintenance manager. During the epic drought of 2002, the system was put to a serious test when the water district adjusted its water restrictions on a sometimes-daily basis.
“Now we can drastically alter the schedule just by sitting at a desk,” Pardee said.
If weather conditions demand more water, the computer will adjust the irrigation system to provide more. If it has rained recently, the system will dial back the faucets.
That doesn’t mean the system will stop irrigation during a rainstorm, Oppenheimer said. What it does mean, though, is the sprinklers will stay off for a few days after a substantial storm.
The town’s system is unusual in its level of sophistication. However, customers of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District will be able to access a fairly sophisticated system themselves this year.
Mike Bauer, water conservation specialist for the district, said customers this year will be able access data from three weather stations in the upper valley. The multiple stations – established in order to account for the wide climate variations – will be set up at the water treatment plants in Edwards and Avon as well as at the Vail golf course.
Real-time data from those systems will be sent to the district’s computer server and that data will then be posted on the district’s Web site and made available to customers.
As opposed to the Vail system, which can alter sprinkling schedules on a day-to-day basis, Bauer said he hopes customers will update their sprinkler schedules every few weeks.
“We’ll start by asking for once a month, then work on once a week,” said Bauer.
Of course, setting a multi-zone sprinkler system is widely believed to be about as difficult to program as a VCR, which is to say, virtually impossible for the average adult. To help, the water district will offer one-time “audits” for homeowners, condo associations and others with irrigated landscaping.
“It’s like setting a VCR the first time through, but after that it’s like changing the channel,” Bauer said. Once a system is set to deliver the right amount of moisture to different sprinkler zones, it’s relatively easy to dial up more or less watering time depending on the weather, he said.
While encouraging residents to set up their systems for easy use, Bauer also encouraged water users to spend $100 or so for a gadget what will shut off a sprinkler when it rains, then leave it off until the plants need water again.
“When it rained last September, everybody in the valley could have left their sprinklers off for about 10 days,” Bauer said. “That would have saved a tremendous amount of water.”
To learn more about the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District’s home watering audit program, call Mike Bauer at 477-5426.
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