Water-Saving Irrigation

By Jocelyn Ulevicus

There is nothing that stands out as more American than a well-manicured lawn and home garden. In fact, I have fond, youthful memories of helping my Grandpa Joe tend his crops. Summer afternoons were often spent plucking from rows and rows of green beans, while my grandfather stood with a hose to spray down his squash and potato plants. On those especially hot summer mornings, he would set a sprinkler out in the yard to keep his grass growing green and high, and during the evenings when the sun had set we would lay in the grass to look up at the stars. As a young girl, the value of water in the scope of that typical day never occurred to me, though now as an adult I can't help but consider its value when I see shrubs, plants, and soil dry up and/or covered with disease.

Inefficient outdoor water use is an area which can be readily impacted on to reduce wasteful water practices. Outdoor irrigation comprises a significant portion of urban water consumption, and given the over-all nation-wide low-rainfall and diminished economic resources that today many Americans are facing, someone like my Grandpa Joe might be more interested in eco-friendly as well as fiscally-conscious alternatives to traditional watering systems.

Let's explore a few sustainable options which can be easily integrated into your home lawn and garden care practices.

Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation is one such way to improve the health of your garden, while conserving time, as well as environmental and financial resources. Drip irrigation, also known as micro- and trickle-irrigation, is a sustainable irrigation practice designed and well-suited for home use. Characterized by a slow, precise application of water to plants and root systems, drip irrigation systems allow water to drip directly to root zones at low volumes, offering the eco and economically conscious farmer or homeowner a conservation friendly alternative to traditional watering means.

When compared to sprinklers and hoses, drip irrigation is more economically sound and environmentally savvy, as it uses at least 30-50 % less water than other methods of watering, inclusive of less loss associated with canopy interception, runoff, wind drift, or evaporation. While drip irrigation systems are most notable for their water-saving powers, there are actually several benefits which may appeal to the homeowner associated with implementing this system.

For instance, drip irrigation improves overall growth of plants, shrubs, and trees. Since small amounts of water are continuously applied over an extended period of time, ideal growing conditions develop, thus limiting the over-saturation of root systems and soil. Instead, the drip-process slowly delivers water directly to the root of the plant, and the soil particles can absorb and hold water, reducing vital nutrient leaching.

Because drip irrigation penetrates deeply and directly to the root zone and only where needed, weed growth is discouraged, a salient point to consider for the eco-conscious farmer. The minimization of excessive weed growth sustains natural diversity and ecological communities by reducing competition for soil nutrients and sunlight with native plants and animals. This is a big win for drip irrigation systems.

Drip irrigation is also a massive time-saver— and I haven't met a single American that doesn't want to have more time! Long gone are the days of having to move, set, and reset sprinkler systems, when a timer can be added with ease for automatic watering. Now when you go on vacation, you don't have to bribe your neighbor's kid to look after your lawn!

Additional benefits include the control of fungal disease, since the use of drip-methods create more ideal growth conditions. As previously discussed, drip systems move water more efficiently to root zones, which reduces water-pooling where fungus thrives. Last but not least, choosing a drip irrigation system over other water practices means you are also choosing a method which is highly adaptable. Anytime the growth pattern of your home lawn or garden changes, drip irrigation systems are easily re-integrated.

Now, drip irrigation sounds like a really good option, though knowing my Grandfather, he might want to explore other sustainable water usage and management practices before committing to any one system.

Water Harvesting

Water Harvesting is a conservation-focused practice which decreases the use of expensive and energy-costing potable water by capturing rainwater for later use. Water that hasn't had contact with sewage, such as water from sinks, showers, and even washing machines can be used to irrigate home gardens and lawns.

Let's get a little more specific. Rainwater harvesting is a cost-effective practice which lowers the burden of municipal water costs. Through collecting rainwater and slowing runoff, the water can be used for multiple purposes including irrigation.

Grey Water refers to water that is drawn from bathing and washing clothes, and since it has a low-contaminate value when compared to water drawn from toilets, it can be a highly versatile resource for those eager to repurpose and reuse water from their home.

Landscaping Techniques

If catching runoff or installing a sophisticated irrigation system is not up your ally, there are landscaping techniques which can be implemented to conserve water as well as energy. Through employing permaculture techniques in your landscape design you can diminish runoff while improving the condition of soil. For instance, sheet mulching, basins, and swales, are all options which can increase the health of your garden and lawn.

Composting organic materials such as waste from fruits and vegetables, egg shells, and coffee grounds can be used for sheet mulching purposes, improving the integrity of soil through the treatment of vital nutrients. Alternately, basins and swales, offer a low-maintenance and far less complex system for rain and other wastewater capture for repurposing use, and can easily be integrated in garden beds or between trees.

Going green for home and garden purposes can offer sustainable solutions to environmental, social, and economic concerns that not just homeowners but entire communities face. There is no natural resource that is as important to see gardens and lawns thrive than water. That being said, locating and ensuring a dependable source is vital to every garden's success. Topographical concerns must also be taken into consideration, as some methods may be more suited to hilly landscapes than others.

I have no way of knowing which method my Grandpa Joe would choose, though if it were me I wouldn't change my child hood summer days with him one bit.

Staff, Roll. A Beginners Guide to Drip Irrigation. 6 January 2016 Retrieved on 21 August 2016: http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/beginners-guide-drip-irrigation

Cowan, Shannon. The Absentee Gardener: How to Water Your Vegetable Garden without Being Home. Earth Easy. 27 August 2013 Retrieved on 21 August 2016: http://learn.eartheasy.com/2013/08/the-absentee-gardener-how-to-water-your-vegetable-garden-without-being-home/

Earth Easy. Drip Irrigation. Earth Easy. Retrieved on 21 August 2016: http://eartheasy.com/grow_drip-irrigation.html

U.S Department of Energy. Landscaping Water Conservation. Retrieved on 21 August 2016 http://energy.gov/energysaver/landscaping-water-conservation

Grey Water Action. Grey Water Use. Retrieved on 21 August 2016: http://greywateraction.org/contentabout-greywater-reuse/

Grow NYC. Rain Water Harvesting. Retrieved on 21 August 2016: http://www.grownyc.org/openspace/rainwater-harvesting

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