Why Should You Care About Irrigation?

I’m recycling a series of posts I made a few years ago about irrigation and the situation we are nearing regarding the world’s water sources and usage. Increased urbanization has produced an enormous thirst, world-wide, which, combined with Climate Change, are taxing us more severely than I believe we realize.

Irrigation offers something of a help in water conservation, but the greatest thing we can all do is to learn more about our role in saving water in a very general way.

Well, if you are not one of the millions of people who live in water-challenged environments, then maybe you shouldn’t. Know this, however: Water is the kind of thing wars get fought over. Right now, for example, Turkey has built a virtual TVA system on the Euphrates which has led to their control of the water that runs into Iraq and which produced extremely opulent vineyards and agricultural development which were once the wonder of the Ancient World. A drought has since occurred, meaning the rationing of this water tends to go to Turkish interests first. The result for Iraqi’s is less water, fewer crops, angry farmers and a new plague of snakes – and vipers at that, looking for homes. I could go on with current tales of tensions mounting over water issues elsewhere, too.

Here at home, much of my landscaping, living in Reno, Nevada, dealt with making this picture: (click any image to enlarge)

And this:

Into this result:

And this:

The lawn in the picture was insisted upon – as are lawns elsewhere. There is a turf farm lobby and fervent advocating for lawns in desert areas which is meeting some fierce resistance from common sense. While the arguments tend to stay political – and almost stupid in their simplicity and lack of insight – it is true that lawns are water-hogging enterprises. For my money, this is not to say they are not ever a lovely addition to a landscape. They are desirable in any number of a wide variety of ways – including cooling a place down in the Summer heat and providing some moisture for the air. I have always advocated a piece of lawn if the design was crying for it. But we no longer need massive swaths of lawns ala’ the English Model for the homes we decorate up out West. I have come to using lawns more for walkways in strips which make them special for barefoot walking and enjoying the green soothing effect. Besides, lawns are a lot of work!

Here in the United States, we face the same deal. Expansion to Sun Belt areas means a growing population using fewer and fewer water resources. Australia is another region who faces absolutely similar situations. Just like all other adjustment made apparent by our expanding populations – such as social benefits like rapid transit and skyscrapers – we will need to adjust yet again, but this time to a resource which we have always taken for granted. We have historically, in other words, undervalued water.

Acting responsibly at home just makes it easier on everyone when the hammer comes down. Using drip irrigation instead of bulk water-powering spray heads is just one way to save water for the crowd around us. Limiting our design to exclude humongous patches of lawn is another. Believe me, there are plenty of other ways to provide livable and gorgeous surroundings, even in a desert or semi-desert.

Irrigation provides the predictable measure of water spent on watering our precious landscapes and gardens. Its predictability and its accuracy are the keys here. Ill-aimed lawn nozzles can waste water egregiously, sending it down the street in a useless waste. But accurately-aimed lawn nozzles can efficiently water our lawns using less than half of the water we’d use applying an oscillating sprayer from our hoses. Watering a veggie garden by hand might just be the most wasteful utility of them all. A drip system will water the roots only, without evaporation or waste, providing healthier plants with an absolute minimum of wastage.

Providing the wide range of effects and tools now available to landscapers and designers can even result in crowds clamoring to see what all the buzz is at a well-lit up home. Notice this picture below how I am literally never without friends!

Anyway, adjusting we are doing. Irrigation companies now offer bonuses to those with ideas that lead to water saving technologies. This is “doing it right” and it also takes from plumbing (no pun intended) ;-) the many ingenious people among the general population for great ideas. In a sense, every small bit contributes to the overall whole. Smart landscaping and gardening persons are taking this all to heart. Being ahead of the curve in anticipating looming water problems might be one of the easiest calls ever. And, for sure, the stress of water-shortages has not hit with what will eventually be its full power.

11 thoughts on “Why Should You Care About Irrigation?

  1. Steve,
    I posted a blog entry today that dealt with water conservation and I thought about all those cool gardens you design that are easy on the water bill and thought I’d add a link to your blog. Cheers!

  2. Thanks Avis. You actually use a system I really think quite a bit of – Avis lives in an apartment and uses containers for his gardening. I think the world of those who do this. I once did a garden for Henry Kaiser in Vamcouver, BC – we put a lawn in up on the 23rd floor of his high rise. We even had the contract to mow it, lol. Lots of cool things are possible in this world of ours.

  3. Steve, this is a very thoughtful overview of the water situation in general, and I really like your specific comments about lawn designs and watering methods. There may be places where you can take water for granted – but there seem to be fewer and fewer of them. I’m going to have to check out Avis’s container methods – are they like mine, or does she have some new tricks I can pick up?

  4. You are so right about the impact of scarce water on lands and international relations. The Old Testament , starting in Genesis, records disputes over wells and grazing lands watered by these wells.
    Klamath Falls , Oregon has ongoing disputes that have become almost violent, over water rights and usage, and the loss of water rights has destroyed many livelihoods.

    Not sure what the end result will be, as the need for water is life itself, and old as the history of man. Surely though, it cannot hurt to conserve and re-evaluate our ideas of a beautiful landscape…..one requiring far less water.

  5. Hello Steve!
    I had a long, deeply satisfying visit to the Classical Chinese Garden and other Portland wonders which I’m writing about now on BayAreaTendrils.
    Can you tell me if you worked on some aspect of the hardscape at the CCG? I know there were Chinese artisans, however, I thought you, too, were involved?
    Cheers,
    Alice
    aka Bay Area Tendrils Garden Travel

  6. Hi, Alice, thanks for dropping by. Yes, I was involved in the Chinese Garden, nearly from the first. I write about it in here. Look at the “Categories” section for the Chinese Garden to the right. I speak about my role in the last 4 posts.

  7. Hi Steve, well said, in your usual to the point without being preachy way. Living where there are no irrigation systems, even in the fanciest houses, being aware of the value of water was brought to everyone’s attention by the extreme drought of the last two years in our area. I believe Tennessee and Georgia are involved in a lawsuit over a river that forms their border. This year has brought more rainfall, but most citizens have not forgotten what it is like to be without the precious liquid. We don’t like the sound of vipers, either.
    Frances

  8. Hi Steve
    the concept of reducing lawns and replacing them with vegetation is one that is well advanced in Australia. Although it is still hard to convince the die hard home owner who wants his/her piece of turf. Vegetation on the other hand is excellent for native birds and you gain the benefit of seeing flowers. The gardens you have created look great and apart from the lawn meld with the surrounding landscape.

  9. Hi Steve,

    Great topic. And one everyone needs to pay more attention to – even in states where water isn’t in quite as short supply.

    Our company specializes in installing super-efficient sprinkler systems for residential landscapes. We’re one of the more experienced companies in our area. In January, I’ve been chosen to give a presentation at the annual Rain Bird Select Contractor conference on the subject of efficient sprinkler systems. I just wanted to give a little background before my comments.

    So the only thing I would add to what you wrote is that there are a number of new technologies that – if properly installed – can make an existing irrigation system up to twice as efficient. Upgrading spray heads or rotor heads to Pressure Regulated (PRS) heads, for instance. Upgrading adjustable arc (VAN) nozzles to Uniform (U-Series) nozzles or Rotary nozzles is another way. As you mentioned, installing drip line for planting beds. But also the use of low-volume spray heads like the Rain Bird X-PCN nozzle for smaller planting beds is a huge water saver.

    But the biggest new technology of all, IMO, is the Rain Bird ESP-SMT Weather-Based Controller. Instead of watering each zone a fixed time every day, all year – this controller automatically detects changes in temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation, and wind speed – and then adjusts the time and frequency of watering.

    So now instead of watering zone 1 for 10 minutes each day, this controller might water zone 1 for 5 minutes the first day, nothing the next day, nothing the third day, 3 minutes the 4th day, nothing the 5th day, 11 minutes the 6th day, and nothing the 7th day. Same results. Just no unnecessary watering. And now you’re using a fraction of the water you were previously using with a fixed time-based controller.

    Time to upgrade everyone!

  10. Jim, thanks for that. There is much in those words, brother, for real. The technologies move along rapidly, don’t they? I used some of the first of those PRS nozzle amenders on a huge Reno project and it worked incredibly well. It’s truly amazing to get the same throw arc with less water.

  11. Excellent post! Interesting to see how other professionals approach irrigation in different parts of the country. Thanks for sharing!

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