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Efficient irrigation-landscaping-Conservation Corner aspects of sustainable landscaping can help you ensure the success of your project. Photo: Water Authority

Efficient Irrigation Delivers Water While Protecting Plants

Due to the lack of rainfall in the San Diego region, even sustainable landscaping sometimes relies on artificial irrigation. Irrigation systems must be thoughtfully designed, installed, and programmed. Once in place, the many interconnected mechanical elements must be maintained properly for optimal performance.

“Irrigation efficiency” is a way of describing how well your irrigation system is doing its job delivering water for the beneficial use of the plants in your landscaping.

When irrigation system efficiency isn’t maximized, it can cause you to use more water than needed. Possible problems fall in three major categories: site conditions in your landscaping, irrigation control, and the uniform distribution of water by your irrigation system.

How to maximize irrigation impact

You may want to get help planning your irrigation system from a qualified professional. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

There are three ways to improve your irrigation system efficiency:

  • Smart Irrigation Management
  • State of the Art System Upgrades
  • Matching Irrigation to Your Hydrozones

Setting and forgetting your irrigation controller is a thing of the past. Even if you don’t have a “smart” irrigation controller to adjust your program for weather conditions, be more proactive in managing your watering, and more closely try to match your watering schedule with the actual water needs of your landscaping.

Upgrading your system with state-of-the-art components is a good investment and the single most significant thing you can do to save water.

Tips on professional help

You may decide to get professional help with your irrigation system. Look for designers or contractors qualified to provide these services. Credentials such as the Irrigation Association’s Certified Irrigation Designer designation can help assure your project will be successful. You can also ask if your contractor is a Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper (QWEL).

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Biden’s Interior Secretary Backs West Side Reservoir, More California Water Storage

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland talked about dealing with drought, including a reservoir planned near Patterson, in a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday.

She was joined by Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, who has urged increased federal spending on such efforts.

Healthy trees provide tremendous environmental and community benefits, and require a minimal investment in water to stay healthy. Photo: Valiphotos / Pexels tree care tips

Tree Care Tips Preserve Benefits During Drought  

Trees are among the most valuable investment in San Diego County’s landscape – including your own waterwise landscaping. Trees stand out as key performers in your landscape design for multiple reasons. No other landscape plant offers greater benefits to your landscape and the greater environment.

Investing in tree maintenance is vital to keep them healthy. As you reassess your landscaping’s irrigation needs during extended periods of drought, allocate sufficient water to your trees, which will in turn provide multiple benefits.

Trees need time to grow and reach maturity. Saving water in the short term during a drought could result in damaged or dead trees, which could take decades to restore. According to the San Diego Regional Urban Forest Council, the cost of watering a mature tree is less than $20 each year. It can cost $1,000 to remove a dead tree. Taking care of your trees during drought ensures a tremendous return on this investment.

Multiple long-term benefits from trees

Healthy trees fight climate change and cool our cities, provide habitat, and improve the health of our neighborhoods. Photo: Kampus Production / Pexels

In the region’s dry and increasingly warming Mediterranean climate, trees help fight climate change. Trees counteract the urban heat island effect, especially in areas dominated by hardscapes such as streets, sidewalks, and building roofs. The evapotranspiration from tree leaves cools the ambient temperature down, much as perspiration lowers a person’s body temperature. Watering your trees also reduces the water needs of plants growing in their shade.

Trees provide habitat for insects, pollinators, birds, and animals – and human beings with their welcoming shade and protection. Placed properly, shade trees can reduce the use of air conditioning from 20% to 50%. The evaporation from a single tree can produce the cooling effect of ten room-size residential air conditioners operating 20 hours a day. California street trees alone save the amount of electricity it would take to air condition 530,000 households every year.

Trees protect your property, and studies show the presence of trees improves property values. Neighborhoods with more trees have lower crime rates. In business districts, trees attract customers. People linger and shop longer when trees are present. Sales rise and benefit the entire economy.

Prevent wildfire risks with healthy trees

Even the strictest drought restrictions allow for watering trees on residential and commercial properties. Photo: Helix Water District tree care tips

Even the strictest drought restrictions allow for watering trees on residential and commercial properties. Photo: Helix Water District

When trees die off due to drought, they become wildfire safety risks in addition to losing their many environmental and economic benefits. While any plant might die off without sufficient water, it may grow back within weeks. Drought stress can make living trees more susceptible to diseases and pests.

Even the strictest drought restrictions allow for watering trees on residential and commercial properties. The preferred method is to use a slow-release method such as a perforated bucket or low-volume non-spray irrigation.

Effective ways to water trees

When watering your trees, water along the dripline below the canopy edge, not at the trunk. Diagram: San Diego Regional Urban Forestry Council tree care tips

When watering your trees, water along the dripline below the canopy edge, not at the trunk. Graphic: San Diego Regional Urban Forestry Council

Trees need deep infrequent watering. Once established, once a month in the summer and during months without measurable rainfall is sufficient.

  • Newly planted trees: For the first three years, water once weekly with up to five gallons of water.
  • Small, established low water trees need only about 20 gallons a month. This is the same amount of water in a single average shower.
  • Larger, mature low water trees need up to 200 gallons per month.
  • Monitor the soil moisture under your tree and adjust amounts accordingly. You may want to use a soil probe to check at the roots.
  • Apply water at the edge of the tree’s canopy, not at the trunk. This is where the roots absorb and bring water into the tree.

Trees create community. They provide inviting and cool areas for recreation and relaxation in our neighborhoods and contribute to playgrounds and parks. San Diego enjoys a perfect example right in the heart of the city. One of our greatest civic attractions is Balboa Park, full of beautiful trees planted by visionaries like Kate Sessions a century ago.

Find additional advice from the San Diego Regional Urban Forests Council on tree care and drought.

Saving water-water bank-Conservation Cornerrainy day can be used later. Photo": Werner Jukel / Pixabay Bank your water savings

Bank Your Water Savings for the Future

Using landscape irrigation efficiently can significantly reduce overall household water consumption while leaving adequate water in the ground to cover your plants’ needs. One tool that can help is to build up your water savings when rainfall is available.

Approximately half of the water spent by average California homes is used outdoors, mostly for irrigation. Unfortunately, up to half of commercial and residential irrigation water is squandered by evaporation, wind, improper system design, or overwatering, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

During the winter in metropolitan San Diego County, healthy soil can absorb water in surprisingly large quantities to be released slowly to plants as they use it during drier months – like using a savings account to pay for expenses over time.

There haven’t been many opportunities in recent years to do so. However, whenever it is possible, there is no need to use the residential water supply on your landscaping when Mother Nature can bank water savings deposits for you.

Balance your water bank account 

Maximize your landscaping soil's ability to retain and save rainfall and irrigation for drier days. Photo: D. Douk/Creative Commons

Maximize your landscaping soil’s ability to retain and save rainfall and irrigation for drier days by creating a water savings account. Photo: D. Douk/Creative Commons

Water entering the soil – whether as rain or as irrigation – is like a deposit into a soil checking account.

By keeping track of those transactions of water in and water out, it is possible to know how much water in the soil “reservoir” is available in the landscape at any given time for the plants to access.

The initial soil bank balance is determined by direct observation or is assessed after a thorough wetting of the soil by irrigation or winter rains. Every day, plants take small amounts of water from the soil. Rain and irrigation fill up the water bank again. The trick is to make sure this “account” does not get overdrawn.

How can you tell when the account is depleted? Smart irrigation controllers and landscape professionals can calculate this for you. You can also rely on a soil probe, or even testing the landscape by feeling the soil surface with your fingers.

When oxygen and water are balanced in the soil, the amount of water lost through evapotranspiration is similar to paying fees on your savings account. Shading the soil surface with plant materials and mulch protects water in the soil by slowing evapotranspiration and leaving more water in your soil’s account.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Madera County Residents and Farmers Face Groundwater Challenge of a Lifetime

Madera County is running out of time as groundwater levels plummet to new depths.

Wells are going dry everywhere. Drillers have months-long waitlists. Residents are scrambling for water tanks. And farmers will soon face a reckoning after agriculture’s footprint, particularly nut trees, has more than doubled in the past 50 years — far outpacing irrigation supplies.

There’s growing consensus among farmers, county officials and residents that Madera’s groundwater problem will be solved mainly by cutting water demand, not by waiting for more dams to be built or even recharging excess water into the aquifer.

New Mexico Farmers Along Rio Grande Face Early Water Cutoff

Hundreds of farmers along central New Mexico’s stretch of the Rio Grande face a second straight year of having their irrigation supplies cut off early.

The board that oversees the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District voted Friday to end deliveries for irrigation a month early because of low water availability.

The Oct. 1 shutoff means winter crops like those grown by Travis Harris just north of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge are at risk.

Fresno, Clovis Battle Drought With ‘Purple Pipe’ Water. Toilet-to-Tap Next?

As the drought crisis worsens throughout California, Fresno and Clovis leaders, as well as residents, are answering the challenge.

Both cities are recycling water through “purple pipe” systems to offset non-potable usages like landscape irrigation, cooling towers, and agricultural irrigation.

Overwatering-drought-landscaping-Conservation Corner

Check Before Overwatering Your Landscaping

Do you know if your landscaping really needs water? Even if you have waterwise irrigation on a properly timed schedule for your individual landscaping plan, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s really needed. You could be wasting water assuming it’s necessary. Appearances can be misleading.

Rely on data from an old-school method of measurement. Because soil may appear dry on the surface, stick your finger into the soil and see if the soil is wet beneath the surface. If the soil is moist up to your second knuckle, it doesn’t need any more water. Wait for another 24 to 48 hours, then recheck the soil.

If you don’t want to ruin a manicure, use a soil probe to measure the moisture in the soil to determine whether the soil needs more water.

You can also observe plant health. How vibrant are your plants? This can be tricky because sometimes the signs of overwatering and underwatering will produce similar results in plants.

Watering your plants by hand is a great way to control exactly how much water they receive and observe them closely to be sure they are flourishing in the early stages.

Watering your plants by hand is a great way to control exactly how much water they receive and observe them closely to be sure they are flourishing in the early stages. Photo: Jill Wellington/Pixabay

Underwatering symptoms include:

  • Soil is bone dry
  • Older leaves turn yellow or brown and drop off
  • Leaves are wilted
  • Leaves curl and become brittle
  • Stunted plant growth

Overwatering symptoms include:

  • Soil is constantly saturated and soggy
  • Leaves turn a lighter shade of green, or turn yellow
  • Younger plant shoots wilt
  • Leaves are green and brittle
  • Algae and mushrooms are in the soil
  • Growth is excessive

Rely mainly on objective measurements. Symptoms at both irrigation extremes can be similar. Using simple measurement tools can help ensure the correct amount of irrigation takes place without withholding needed moisture, but without overwatering and wasting resources.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

City of Folsom Requiring People to Cut Water Use by 20% as Drought Worsens

The City of Folsom announced Monday it will require residents to reduce water use by 20%. The water-use restriction will go into effect Aug. 30.

This comes as the water supply across the state continues to dwindle amid a crippling drought. Folsom itself draws water from the American River at Folsom Lake, which has lower levels than it did during the 2014-15 drought. This is the second driest year on record since 1977.

A Watershed Moment

A “mega-drought” across the Southwest will force the federal government to declare a water shortage on the Colorado River this month. The decision would be historic for the watershed, which serves 40 million people in seven states: California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. The river system provides irrigation that turns desert into farmland and is an important source of drinking water and hydroelectric power. The looming first-ever declaration will be triggered when the country’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, dips below a certain level.