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Doing Your Part: Drop By Drop

Luis Tosta/Unsplash

By Dawn Oldfield, CCMGA Public Relations Chairperson

"We never know the worth of water till the well is dry."
-Thomas Fuller

While North Texas may no longer fall under the technical definition of a drought (though with below-normal spring rain, Collin County is considered Abnormally Dry according to the U.S Drought Monitor), our water worries are hardly over. As Collin County's population increases, so does the strain on our water supply. Even with Lake Lavon at near-normal levels in mid-May, water quality and quantity continue to be an issue. As a result, residents and businesses need to be vigilant about preserving our water resources.

Lake Lavon is the primary water source for our area. We rely on it for all our H2O needs. At the height of the drought in our area experienced in 2011, for example, Lake Lavon was at its lowest point in two years. Waves that usually glistened across the horizon were replaced by a desolate landscape of sand and tree stumps. It looked more like a desert than a lake.

It's easy to implement an ongoing water conservation plan indoors and out. There are many conservation measures gardeners and yardeners can adopt that will protect our precious water resources without watching their landscape perish or paying a fortune in water bills. The first step is to select plants that are well-adapted to our area; the second is to have an updated irrigation system that operates correctly for a water-efficient landscape. Finally, keep it set on manual and watering only when needed.

The truth is overwatering is the biggest mistake gardeners make, not realizing they're wasting gallons of water daily. More plants die from too much water than from lack of it. Overwatering shortens a plant's life and increases disease susceptibility. Watering lawns and plants deeply but less frequently makes for healthier plants, encouraging deep root growth and drought tolerance.

More water is wasted on lawns than in any other landscape area. Yet, grass needs only one inch of water per week during the summer. Cut that amount to one inch every two-three weeks in spring, fall and winter. You'll not only have healthier grass; you'll be adding money to your wallet by cutting your utility bill.

Don't panic if your lawn turns brown when we hit triple-digit temperatures during the summer months. It's only gone dormant, aka "survival mode", to protect itself. It'll green right back up with rainfall. If it rains, the dormant lawn only needs to be watered every few weeks or less.

Avoid watering when it is windy, and don't water during the day's heat.
Not only is it prohibited if water restrictions are in place, a lot of water is lost through evaporation. And, when the sun hits wet grass, plants, and flowers during the hottest part of the day, it can actually burn them.

Irrigation should be considered a supplement to natural rainfall – not a daily ritual. Plants and lawns don't need to be watered on a set schedule. Your plants will tell you when they are thirsty. Instead of having sprinklers set on a timer, check for soil moisture two to three inches below the surface before watering.

Replace outdated or broken sprinklers in landscape beds with drip irrigation. Although sprinklers are still probably the best way to water a lawn, drip irrigation provides is a wonderful option for the rest of the garden since it waters the roots of plants instead of spraying water into the air. Small emitters apply an even distribution of water slowly to individual plants, using 20-70 percent less water than traditional systems. Evaporation is negligible, and runoff is practically eliminated. They are easy to install and economical, too. Remember to check outdoor spigots and hoses for leaks. One drop per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water annually!

About 32,000 gallons of water run off the roof of an average home each year. Installing a rain barrel results in automatic water savings and is an easy way to collect and store water that would otherwise be storm runoff. The collected water can be used to water during our driest months –saving approximately 1,300 gallons of water during our hot summer days.

If you're planning to add new plants to your landscape this year, be water-wise and consider Texas native, adapted, and drought-tolerant plants. Do your homework because, contrary to popular belief, these water-efficient and low-maintenance plants come in all colors, shapes, and sizes, adding beautiful lushness to your garden. These plants need regular water until they are established - for about the first two to three weeks. After that, most native, adapted, and drought-tolerant plants need to be watered only once or twice a week to thrive.

Above all, remember mulch. Mulch is your friend! This wonder material for the garden is inexpensive, easy to apply, and effective.
A 3-inch layer of mulch reduces fluctuations in soil temperature and moisture evaporation. And as a bonus, mulch also reduces weeds and improves soil structure. Mulching with 2-4 inches of organic material twice a year is recommended for best results.

It's worth repeating… whether we are in drought conditions or not, people need to make it a habit to follow water conservation measures year-round, every year. Water is a finite resource, and as stewards of this planet, we are responsible for preserving and protecting it. We can live with brown lawns and dirty cars but not without water to drink.

Don't forget about conserving water indoors as well. Turn off the water when brushing your teeth, shaving or washing your face and hands. Run the dishwasher only when full. Adjust washing machines according to your load size, and only run a full load.

Education, not regulation, is the only way to preserve water for future generations. Make water conservation a fun, family activity. Encourage children to think of ways to save water and be part of the solution, creating good habits that will last a lifetime.

Consult a trusted nursery professional or the Collin County Master Gardeners Association website, www.ccmgatx.org, for information about plants best suited to our area and for tips on water conservation.
To learn more about the specific details of water restrictions and drought and water emergency plans, visit www.ntmwd.com.

 

 

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