Brown may be the new green in Clovis this summer as residents work to meet the mandatory water reduction goals implemented on May 1. Each household in the city must reduce water use by 36% as compared to 2013. While reducing water use by more than a third may sound like a daunting task, experts in two areas have ideas that can help many Clovis families conserve outdoor water this year.
Lush green grass may be the biggest consumer of household water. The good news, according to Master Gardener Program Coordinator Janet Cangemi of the University of California Cooperative Extension, is going cold turkey and cutting off all water to your lawn may be better for it than just cutting back.
“The recommendation is to let it go brown and not water. This complete absence of moisture will trigger a shut down response, reserving all energies for when water again becomes available,” said Cangemi. “To continue to insufficiently water will only make it look bad, in addition to diminishing or depleting all the reserves stored in the grass as it struggles to go dormant.”
Cangemi says the browning process need not be permanent, and it’s something that some lawns go through each winter.
“Bermuda grass lawns turn brown and remain so for at least three months, and will begin to green up with spring rains if we get them, or if they are irrigated.”
However, she does caution that a lawn’s ability to return to a lush green field can be impacted by other factors, including timing of the growing season, turf variety, soil type and the total time it goes without irrigation.
If a brown lawn is just not your style, Cangemi suggests taking a close look at your sprinkler system. The first things to check for are leaks and broken sprinklers.
“Many people set their timer for early in the morning and never check back on their systems,” she said. “They need to turn it on and see if there are any sprinkler heads that need to be replaced, or if there are any leaks. Standing water under valves is a clue, as are damp, mossy spots.”
Updating your sprinkler heads may allow you to keep your grass green and cut back on water use. The Cooperative Extension recommends replacing traditional pop-up sprinkler heads with more efficient Matched Precipitation sprinklers. These use up to 65% less water and deliver it in a way that allows your lawn to absorb it more thoroughly.
While water reduction and efficiency will help most homeowners conserve water, the long-term answer may be deciding if you really need that green stretch of lawn. This may be the year to look into an alternative for your yard.
“Replacing a lawn in the right season, with drought tolerant plant material, grasses, or California natives can be quite stunning. Once established can survive with little irrigation,” said Cangemi.
While grass can be replaced, trees take longer to establish, and keeping them alive and healthy may be a priority for homeowners. A few good watering sessions during the summer can be key to maintaining the trees in your yard.
“Irrigate several weeks apart in spring and summer for long enough to wet the soil to the depth of the root zone,” said Cangemi. “Push a long thin probe into the soil until it stops at hard, dry soil to determine if you are watering into the root zone. “
She cautions that the reduction mandate may make it hard to provide enough water to allow fruit trees to produce a crop this year.
“To produce a good crop, fruit and nut trees need adequate water in their root zones continuously from bloom until harvest,” said Cangemi. “Citrus trees need adequate soil moisture during spring to set fruit and steady water in summer and fall to produce well. It may become necessary to sacrifice a year’s crop in order to keep trees alive until winter.”
The good news is that some other landscaping mainstays are pretty drought tolerant. Cangemi says most ornamental shrubs are hardy enough to withstand a lack of water for most of the season. She recommends a good watering in the spring, with one or two more over the summer to help them make it through the season.
If your yard includes a pool, there are some other steps you can take to cut down on your water use this summer. Derek Lawson of Pool Kingdom in Clovis says evaporation is the main cause of water loss from pools, and it can be a big factor.
“People don’t realize you lose up to two or three inches of water every week,” said Lawson. “During the summer months, that’s like four feet of water. If you go through a year, we figure that probably every pool loses about six feet of water.”
Over time that loss can add up to far more than many pool owners realize. Lawson says it can equal anywhere from half to all of the water in an average pool. He says the answer is creating a barrier that keeps the water in your pool, either by using a physical pool cover or a pool additive that reduces evaporation.
“You can reduce it by 15% or maybe 20% by using a pool cover. It’s way worth it,” said Lawson. In addition, he says using a pool cover has other benefits, including keep pools cleaner and warmer.
Just like sprinkler systems, leaks in pool pumps and plumbing can be sources of water waste. Lawson recommends checking filters and pumps several times during the summer, particularly around seals in the system. “If you’re losing water that way you’re going to lose water two ways, “ he said.
Lawson says a little bit of care can go a long way toward saving water. “Each pool can save a lot of water over the summer. Multiply that by the number of pools in Clovis, and that’s hundreds of thousands of gallons saved.”