San Antonio Express News
Sunday, July 18, 2004
By Nathan Riggs
When the subject of water is mentioned in San Antonio, thoughts of high water bills, water shortages, water “police”, and pampered landscapes come to mind. While all of these things have some roots in reality, what is really important is the issue of water use in the landscape. Over the past two years, Texas Cooperative Extension and the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) have been collaborating on just such an effort: The Seasonal Irrigation Program, or SIP. Let’s look at SIP and see how it benefits local homeowners.
First of all, SIP is broken down into two key components: an educational focus and a lawn watering recommendation focus. The educational focus centers on teaching homeowners and other civic organizations about the concepts of landscape water conservation. These concepts include irrigation system maintenance and auditing, using water conserving landscapes, understanding the water needs of lawns and landscapes, and xeriscaping. While most of these concepts speak for themselves, the term “xeriscape” does not breed familiarity. Xeriscaping involves the use of native, water-stingy plant materials and landscapes, and follows 7 basic tenets. They are landscape planning and design, soil analysis, selection of appropriate plants, using practical turf areas, efficient irrigation, using mulches, and appropriate maintenance. Texas Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener Volunteers are providing the training and presentations for these SIP workshops. To schedule a SIP workshop, contact SAWS at (210) 704-7479 or the Bexar County Extension office at (210) 467-6575.
The other half of the SIP program is the development and publication of lawn watering recommendations for homeowners. Staff at the Bexar County Extension office use ET data collected by a Texas A&M weather station near the San Antonio International Airport to calculate water needs for local lawns. ET is an acronym for evapo-transpiration and is used to represent the amount of moisture in the soil lost to evaporation and transpiration out of the grass blades.
Results from a 1997-1999 collaborative study between Bexar County Extension and SAWS revealed that most lawns in San Antonio can more than survive on 75% of the normal water that they receive. In fact, tests showed that lawns receiving 75% of the water received ratings just as favorable as those receiving 100% of the normal water they would get. This 25% reduction in lawn watering saved some homeowners as much as 62,000 gallons of water over the summer period.
How can you become a water saver and participate in SIP? There are two easy avenues to lead you down the road to lower water use and heavier checkbooks, and each of them is reached by dialing up the SAWS Water Conservation Department at (210)704-7479.
What are these two avenues? Let’s examine each of these in a little more depth. One avenue is to receive a weekly email on your watering day outlining how much water to apply to your lawn for the week. Remember, lawns should be watered deeply, once per week. To sign up for this free service get onto the Internet and go to http://www.saws.org/conservation/SIP.
The second route to lower water use comes in the form of a weekly automated phone call on your designated watering day. Extension staff call the SAWS automated system, record and program a daily message to send to all homeowners on the list for that particular day. This service is also free of charge. To sign up for a weekly phone message, call the SAWS Water Conservation office at (210) 704-7479.
The SIP program has saved the average homeowner 5,000 gallons and about $15 a month since its inception in 2002. While most homeowners value a lush, green landscape and will do anything to protect it, it is important to know that lush, green landscapes can be maintained using less water and still provide the same beauty and appeal. While most experts agree that San Antonio’s current water supplies will only suffice until 2050, they also agree that landscape irrigation conservation can significantly impact this outlook for the better. Consider signing up for the SIP program today because all your lawn needs is a weekly “sip” of water compared to what it is actually receiving.
This article was written by Nathan Riggs, Extension Agent-IPM, with Texas Cooperative Extension-Bexar County.