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The year in water

Features - Cover Story

Here's a look back at the past 365 days of the wet stuff.

Alan Harris | August 8, 2013


© Marina Pissarova | Dreamstime.com

Great things happen when it comes to water in July. In addition to this issue of Lawn & Landscape focusing on water, it’s also Smart Irrigation Month. What has changed since July 2012 in regards to water?


Droughts.
Historically low snowfall in the winter for the Rocky Mountains led to Denver Water’s decision to restrict outdoor watering to just two days a week starting on April 1. That is the month before the average last frost date and weeks before irrigation systems are pressurized.

Late snow in April and even in May helped with the snow/water deficit, but it was still below average and the water reservoirs were already low from last year’s drought. Low snowfall in the Rockies means reduced water flow in the Colorado River, which impacts water availability in already water-stressed Phoenix and Southern California.

In May, the water level in Edwards Aquifer, located in south central Texas, dropped to a level they have not seen since 1958.

The low levels triggered water restrictions for San Antonio to reduce water withdrawals by 30 percent, and in the upper part of the aquifer the reduction in withdrawals is 44 percent.

Normally people don’t care about the drought unless it is where they live, but last year the Great Lakes water level dropped so low in late 2012 that barge cargoes had to be reduced between 1,200 and 1,500 tons.

The water level on the Mississippi River dropped so low, barge traffic almost came to a standstill. The reduced shipping level resulted in higher prices for the transportation of goods. Higher transportation costs combined with the effects of the crops in the Midwest being burned up by extreme drought led to increase in the cost of beef and pork in the grocery stores for everyone.


Floods.
The 2012 hurricane season was one of the most active seasons. Early storms Beryl and Debby were minor, but brought significant rain and of course Sandy wreaked havoc in New Jersey and New York in the fall. In the early spring, winter storms Yogi and Zeus brought frigid temperatures and snow to Colorado and rain and flooding to the upper Midwest.

While spring rains are usually a welcome sight for agriculture, this year too much of a good thing delayed planting until May.

Despite late snow and a rain soaked spring for the upper Midwest, as of the writing of this article less than 40 percent of the contiguous United States is still in drought conditions. I project by the time this issue is published more than 60 percent of the nation will be in drought.


New products for water conservation.
Irrigation manufacturers continued to bring new water conservation products to the market. Here are a few highlights.

Hunter added to the popular MP Rotator. The MP3500 provides coverage from 31-35 feet, which allows for specification in mid-range applications. While this is the longest MP Rotator to date, it still maintains the efficiency-focused features of the MP Rotator line, such as matched precipitation, wind resistant streams, robust design and a high level of uniformity.

Rain Bird expanded their award winning, HE-VAN High-Efficiency Variable Arc Spray Nozzles product line to include new 8- and 10-feet models in addition to the current 12- and 15-feet versions. The new HE-VAN models were developed for irrigating smaller landscape areas and throw radii of 6-8 feet and 8-10 feet. Each of the four HE-VAN models are adjustable from 0-360 degrees, making it possible to irrigate landscapes of all shapes and sizes with just four nozzles.

Toro is still featuring their Precision multi-stream, multi-trajectory rotating nozzles that provide an efficient solution for 14-26 feet with automatic matched precipitation at 0.55-inch per hour.

WeatherTRAK added new applications to their WeatherTRAK Central smart irrigation controllers including WeatherTRAK Budget Manager, which provides simple real-time visibility, tracking and reporting of a site’s water consumption and water bill dollars so stakeholders can better understand irrigation performance, water conservation and water costs.


Water in Media and on Social.
Getting the word out about water conservation and keeping it top of mind requires consistent messaging on multiple channels. During the past year, we’ve done a number of things to keep the conversation about water conservation flowing.

Water Bloggers, which features myself, Richard Restuccia and Martha Golea from ValleyCrestTakesOn.com, started a page on Facebook. If you have not joined or contributed to one of the Water Trivia Tuesday posts, you are missing a lot of fun, creativity and the occasional learning experience.

#Landscapechat on Twitter started dedicating one Wednesday a month to focus on the subject of water. These virtual chats consistently reach more than 40,000 people and have occasionally reached more than 1 million people each month.

Clearly, people are interested about water.

So, what does the rest of 2013 and 2014 have in store for the World of Water for us? The United States is a large country so there will surely be more drought, floods and major storms. They will occur in new as well as traditional places.

Water restrictions will continue to change and water rates will increase both as a measure to encourage conservation and to protect revenue rates that drop as a result of conservation. Irrigation manufacturers will continue to find ways to improve water conservation.

Landscape and irrigation professionals will help their customers reduce the water they use to keep their landscape vibrant while reducing the amount of money they spend on water. Water stress is the new norm. Even when the reservoirs start full in the spring, the everyday needs of a growing population quickly draws down the water level.

In extreme water-stressed areas, will traditional irrigation systems be abandoned? Will lawns give way to naturalistic plantings? In parts of Texas the answer is “Yes” to both questions. The final question is will the trend spread to other regions? Only time will tell. L&L


The author is director of sales operations at ValleyCrest Landscape Cos.

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