Water Issues Endanger the Green in Our Yards and Wallets
July has been designated as “Smart Irrigation Month” because July is the month when our water utilities experience peak demand. As our nation’s water suppliers struggle to fulfill the summer water requirements, our citizens struggle to pay for the water they use. Many blame the water challenge on landscape water use. Studies have shown that water use inside the house remains steady year around. It is during the summer months, when people water their landscapes to keep up with summer heat and drought, that utilities experience a substantial rise in water use. Of the 12,000 gallons water a typical family utilizes monthly, nearly one-third is used outdoors. This translates to approximately 4,000 gallons of water used monthly in the average landscape.
As water demand increases, we also hear more stories of more families struggling to pay for their water. A third of families in the United States are challenged to pay their monthly water bill. Much of this is due to an average 54 percent increase in customer water costs since 2010. Some municipalities have experienced water bill increases of greater than 150 percent in the same period. There are several cities that have monthly water bills averaging over $100. Currently, Santa Fe tops the cost table with an average monthly water bill of $154.
Major Causes for the Dramatic Increase in Water Bills
First, much of the nation’s water infrastructure was built in the years after World War II. These systems have aged and need repair and updating. Many older cities are experiencing this challenge.
Second, many cities are facing shrinking populations. Some cities experience people moving out to the suburbs. Other cities, particularly in the north, have lost people as they migrate to southern states that are warmer in the winter. Detroit is a prime example of this effect. As people leave cities, the costs to operate and maintain the water system remains the same, but there are fewer people to share the costs.
Third, many cities and utilities have encouraged their customers conserve water through mandatory water restrictions, and incentives to purchase water-saving appliances, install water efficient irrigation systems, and reduce the amount or type of plant materials in some regions. These water saving actions reduce the amount of water purchased from a utility. However, the utilities still have the same overhead and maintenance costs. The lower water sales results in less revenue which is made up with higher water costs.
Fourth, United States federal funding for water utilities has decreased dramatically. As federal dollars disappear, local utilities must make up the difference with higher water costs.
How to Save on Water Use and Costs
Peak summer water use with its corresponding costs has consumers looking for ways to maintain the green in their yards while trying to preserve the green in their wallets. There are several cultural practices and products available to the average person that will help. Cultural practices include mulching flower beds and adding compost to the soil. Mulching flower beds will help dramatically reduce water loss through insulating the soil from the heat and drying effects of the sun and wind. Incorporating compost into soils will also help the soil retain substantially more water in the plant root zone. Mowing lawns at a greater height will help turf grass grow deeper roots allowing the plants to extract water from deeper in the soil.
Products that help save water in the landscape include wetting agents/surfactants, super absorbent polymers, and hygroscopic humectants. Wetting agents help water absorb into and throughout the soil thus reducing the amount of water lost to runoff. Super absorbent polymers in flower beds can act as sponges that expand and hold water for later use by the plant. Hygroscopic humectants condense water vapor in the soil back to liquid droplets and hold the droplets until the plant needs the water.
These types of products can make economic sense too. A quart bottle of a hygroscopic humectant that covers up to 5,000 square feet of lawn will cost about $35 and lasts up to 3 months in the soil. It can reduce watering by up to 50%. If the landscape portion of the water bill is $33 per month, saving half of that is $16.50. Over 3 months the saving is $49.50. The product pays for itself and gives the additional benefit of preventing the loss of lawns and plant materials during water shortages. Replacing grass and plants is quite expensive.
We don’t need to forfeit the green in our yards to save the green in our wallets. The use of proper technology, cultural practices, and water saving products will help yards to stay beautiful without breaking the piggy bank.
If you have any questions, contact us!