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L&L Water Blogger Alan Harris previews the WaterSmart Innovations Conference and Exposition.

Alan Harris | September 3, 2013

What happens in Vegas … can help save the world or at least water. WaterSmart Innovations Conference and Exposition will be held for the sixth year on October 2-4, 2013. WaterSmart Innovations showcases new water-efficiency technology; builds and strengthens effective, interdisciplinary relationships and establishes you and your company as a leader in innovative water efficiency.

Leading the conference is Doug Bennett, conservation manager at Southern Nevada Water Authority. Doug is not your typical conservation manager. He literally began his career “in the trenches” in 1980 as a landscape maintenance and irrigation technician. He has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture as well as a master’s degree in business and served eight years as an Assistant Professor for New Mexico State University promoting xeriscaping and efficient landscape irrigation techniques.

Since 2000, Doug has been Conservation Manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, managing the nation’s largest conservation incentive programs and coordinating regional water-efficiency efforts for the Las Vegas, Nevada area.

We had the opportunity to ask Mr. Bennett a few questions about the conference.

What was the original inspiration for WaterSmart Innovations?
In the mid-2000’s green concepts were trending in the development community and my agency was getting frequent requests for water efficiency information from a variety of professional sectors. I became convinced that water conservation professionals needed to interact regularly with a more diverse group of professionals interested in water efficiency. Not only would we all benefit from each other’s experience, but we could streamline the process of getting much-needed ideas to the marketplace to address water issues.

While conferences for agency conservation professionals were plentiful, not a single one was intended for multi-disciplinary audiences. We created the non-profit WaterSmart Innovations Conference to accelerate the development and adoption of water efficient policies, programs and products. Apparently the idea had merit; this will be our sixth year as the world’s largest urban water efficiency conference.

What makes this year’s conference unique?
Without a doubt, the attendees. While we have hundreds of return visitors, every year’s event brings new people with new perspectives. With more than 100 presentations in eight topic tracks, you’re always learning something new, or seeing topics from a new perspective. The presentations are brief, just 30 minutes. The intent is not to teach everything, but to inspire collaboration between attendees. More than 500 presentations from past WaterSmart conferences are available free on our website (WaterSmartInnovations.com), but there’s no substitute for the energy of the event.

Why should a landscape and irrigation professional attend WSI?
In arid regions, landscape irrigation accounts for the largest percentage of water use. Innovations in the landscape sector can dramatically reduce water use while still maintaining an attractive and functional landscape. Landscape professionals will come away with new insight on how water efficiency creates both opportunities and challenges for their business. When you understand the issues, you are better positioned to influence outcomes and capitalize on opportunities. An entire conference track is dedicated to green industry issues, so you’ll never find yourself wanting for relevant content.

What landscape and irrigation suppliers will be present at the Expo?
The Irrigation Association, a long-time partner of WSI, will be there along with a broad array of companies that serve the green industry. Ewing, Hunter, Rainmaster,Toro, Irrometer and Irritrol will show the latest innovations in irrigation. Attendees can learn about efficient plant materials by visiting with the Turfgrass Water Alliance, Todd Valley Farms and Kurapia. Perhaps the most interesting opportunities, though, come from those “a-ha” moments when you see ideas from outside your industry that may have new applications.

As someone with an extensive background in water conservation, how do you feel about lawns and turf?

Some may be shocked to know I own a lawn mower. When I bought my home 13 years ago, 90 percent of the landscape was turf. Today, my small backyard lawn comprises about 20 percent of my landscape. High-efficiency sprinklers, scheduled by a smart controller, help me water effectively. The area is a vital at gathering place for outdoor movie nights and we recently used it to host a dinner party for my daughter’s graduation party.

Turfgrasses meet an important need in the landscape because they tolerate traffic. Relative to other plantings, however, turf has a fairly high water demand. In the Las Vegas region, research found lawns receive more than 10 feet of irrigation on top of our meager four inches of rain. With a water footprint four times greater than other types of landscape, it’s important to ensure lawns are more than purely ornamental. I always tell people that if you find the only time you walk on your lawn you’re pushing a mower, it may be the wrong plant choice for that area.

Consistently using water efficiency practices in our landscapes helps ensure that water is available for parks, soccer fields and practical turf areas at our homes. Turf will always have a place in the urban landscape, just not every place.

The author is a landscape architect and the director of sales operations at ValleyCrest Landscape Cos.
 

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