Drought Days of Summer
Aug 08, 2013 09:45AM ● Published by tina
Through High Temps and No Rain, North Texas Tries to Stretch its Limited Water Resources through September and Beyond
It might seem routine by now — watering only on this day, but not that one, and only during these hours. Stage one water restrictions went into effect in Southlake and other area cities early this year, and although they’ll probably be lifted sometime in the fall, water restrictions will probably become a large part of Southlake life.
“Our population is exploding, and our water infrastructure and system of reservoirs is so far behind the curve,” says Ian MacClean, licensed irrigator and owner of Highland Landscaping Services. “Over the next 20 years, this problem is going to get more intense, and the magnifying glass is going to be on irrigation more and more.”
Southlake and its neighboring cities purchase water from the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD), which puts the restrictions in place. The water is sourced from several lakes in the area — lakes that are, as of this writing, at 72 percent of their normal levels. The lake levels drop because of heavy usage, heat and evaporation. And unless North Texas lucks out with an anomalous wet summer like the one experienced in 2010, those levels will continue to get lower and lower.
Although the city did complete a new pipeline earlier this year, enabling it to better meet the water demands of Southlake residents — demands that are only going to grow as Southlake grows — it doesn’t change the amount of water available.
“When Southlake residents, along with other local communities like Colleyville, Grapevine, Keller, North Richland Hills and Trophy Club all use water, then we are going to use water out of those lakes,” says Bob Price, Southlake director of public works. “When those lakes reach the next threshold, then TRWD will require us to go to stage two.” If the lake levels drop to 60 percent, stage two water restrictions will go into effect, restricting lawn watering to one day a week.
The city’s effort to reduce water usage mainly focuses on outdoor activities as irrigation accounts for approximately 60 percent of water demand, according to Price. While residents should always ensure efficient indoor water use — i.e. checking for leaks in fixtures and by monitoring the meter — the relative youth of many of the buildings in Southlake means that most already employ water-efficient fixtures such as showerheads and toilets.
So the solution lies in ensuring efficient water usage outdoors. According to Price, water restrictions aren’t meant to prevent residents from keeping their yards green; they’re put in place to discourage waste. “We’re not trying to say that people can’t water their lawns — they invest a great deal of money into their lawns, we understand that — we just don’t want watering more than necessary to the point that it’s running down the gutters or off the lots,” he says, noting that water run-off poses a major health hazard. “A connection has been made between a heavy amount of irrigation run-off and West Nile virus. That water gets into the drainage system and just sits in places and becomes a breeding ground.”
While water restrictions might require adjustments to how Southlake residents plan and maintain their beautiful yards, it’s all part of a larger responsibility to use our limited resources efficiently.
“We continue to try to get the word out to everybody and try to be good stewards and good neighbors in the region,” Price adds. “We have to do our part to try to conserve water for the days when it’s not so available.”
Abiding by the water restrictions in place will cut water consumption by 10 percent, Price says. But taking further action with large and small measures could make a huge difference as North Texas faces yet another dry summer.
MacClean notes the biggest issue he sees as a landscaper is the planting of vegetation that isn’t appropriate to the North Texas climate, something he hopes all Southlake residents will take into consideration as we enter the fall planting season.
“Choose plants that are good for the area, and avoid plants that are not acclimated to our heat,” he says. MacClean notes that the most common plants he sees requested that aren’t suited to a Texas summer are azaleas, hydrangeas and gardenias. “They certainly don’t like our droughts, and they certainly don’t like our heat,” he says.
A wholesale replanting of the flowerbeds isn’t practical for most in the middle of the summer, however, but MacClean suggests a few immediate steps owners can take to reduce water usage.
At least twice a year — and definitely this summer — have a professional licensed irrigator check your sprinkler system, and don’t wait to get problems fixed.
“One thing that we encounter most commonly is customers who leave their sprinkler system in disrepair, either knowingly or unknowingly, and we finally get a call when there are large areas of grass or plants that are dead. For heaven’s sake, don’t defer repairs,” he says, noting that there are more benefits than just saving those shrubs you’ve invested so much time and money in. “It’s going to keep you on the cutting edge of technology as far as having the most efficient water usage products available and identifying coverage problems.”
MacClean is quick to note another immediate improvement residents can make to their irrigation systems mid-summer to ease water usage. He recommends using a drip system to water your plants, a tip seconded by TRWD.
“With drip, you use less water because you’re delivering right to the root system — a tremendous amount of water is wasted due to misting and evaporation with traditional above-ground sprinklers,” he says, adding that homeowners should consult a professional to install these systems. Alternatively, do-it-yourselfers could consider using soaker hoses in flowerbeds and pots to water directly to the root. Soaker hoses are not as precise as drip systems when it comes to water delivery but they are much more efficient than above-ground sprinklers.
As far as Texas’ ongoing water problem, MacClean says more reservoirs are being planned and built to aid with water supply, but that process takes years. “It takes 20 years to complete a reservoir; that glimmer of hope is so far off the horizon,” he says.
Given how long it will be before any kind of solution comes to fruition, TRWD has begun to consider instituting year-round water restrictions. While that drastic of a measure might be a while off, every resident can help by reducing water usage outdoors. Says MacClean, “We really are going to have to be closely watching our irrigation systems since the problem won’t go away.”
Save Tarrant Water Tips
The importance of water conservation throughout the summer is going to grow every year. Southlake’s water supplier, Tarrant Regional Water District, has a few recommendations to curb water usage. Get into the habit and learn more at Save Tarrant Water.
Give the sprinkler a rest sometimes. In Texas, we tend to water our lawns much too often for much too long. Leave your lawn alone once in a while, and it will do fine —maybe even better.
Don’t water between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Up to 30 percent of the water sprayed on lawns during the heat of the day can be lost to evaporation. So it’s much cooler to water when it’s cooler.
Inch toward conservation. Apply just an inch of water to your lawn once a week during the summer. That will encourage deeper root systems and make for healthier grass.
Add some mulch to the mix. A three- or four-inch layer of mulch, like bark or wood chips, in flower beds or around trees and shrubs will help retain moisture and limit weed growth.
Break out the broom. Hosing down your driveway and sidewalk uses about five gallons of water a minute. Sweeping is much less wasteful, and who can’t use the exercise?
Use your water meter to check for leaks. Turn off all fixtures, and note the meter reading. Keep the water off for a couple of hours, then check to see if the meter reading has changed. If it has, you have a leak. Common sources of leaks are toilets, dripping faucets and sprinkler systems.
Save on water with these tried-and-true Lone Star natives. Ian Maclean, owner of Highland Landscaping, takes you on a tour of his Texas vegetation of choice. Incorporate one or all of these numbers into your yard, and save on water all year round. Find out more from MacClean and his team at Highland Landscaping.
Red Cedar This evergreen, fast-growing native is tolerant of heat, cold and drought.
Cherry Laurel A heat- and drought-tolerant evergreen, it blooms fragrant flowers in the spring and is available in standard and compact varieties.
Vitex, a.k.a. Texas Lilac Heat- and drought-tolerant, this tree offers beautiful lavender blooms throughout the heat of the summer.
Color Guard Yucca This colorful yellow-with-pink yucca plant stays compact and is evergreen-, heat- and drought-tolerant.
Pride of Barbados This plant shows off with magnificent, ornate blooms and unique leaf and branch structures, and it loves heat and drought.
Moon Flower Just after sunset, this heat- and drought-tolerant native opens giant fragrant blooms.
Purslane and Moss Rose These heat- and drought-tolerant bedding plants have vibrant colors and are great for pots, too.
Mandevilla This stunner blooms all season long and doesn’t mind heat and a little neglect, making it perfect for centerpieces in pots.
Mexican Bush Sage and Texas Fire Bush These plants provide exciting, vibrant colors for any Texas landscape.