Your people problem

Departments - Editor's Insight

November 5, 2013
Chuck Bowen
Editor's Notebook
Chuck Bowen

I was in Las Vegas last month at the WaterSmart Innovations conference. You can read more about the news on page 8. I got to catch up with a lot of folks, but a conversation I had with Warren Gorowitz from Ewing stuck out.

We were talking about conservation and technology and their relationship to the managed landscape, and about the (sometimes) negative perception of landscapers by many at the conference who came from water authorities and regulatory agencies.

And Warren said this: “Plants don’t waste water. People do.”

I told him he should put that on a bumper sticker, because he’s absolutely right. The water problem isn’t going away – the weather’s only going to get drier and water more expensive. And there are three basic solutions to that problem: technology, science and human behavior.

We can spend all day talking about turf versus shrubs versus rocks and the various ET rates at a job site, and how to best monitor that site’s water use in real-time, but a person decides what to install in the landscape, and how that landscape gets its water. A stand of turf doesn’t waste water – it uses just as much as it’s given. And suppliers can develop all the coolest technology to track water use and report it and we can spend millions improving the water infrastructure in the country, but at the end of the day, people – landscapers and HOA boards and homeowners – are the ones with their hands on the spigot.

Doug Bennett, conservation manager at the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the brainchild behind the WaterSmart conference told me this story. One of SWNA’s projects examined irrigation system efficiency for Las Vegas homes. The average distribution uniformity of the 220 systems tested in town was about 40 percent. So the agency came in, improved those systems and got that DU average up to about 60 percent.

Bennett went back a few years later to see what kind of water savings those homes had seen since the system improvements. Here’s what he found: nothing. No savings at all.

The homeowners used the same – if not more – water. Human behavior strikes again.

So we have a people problem. But don’t throw up your hands yet. Landscapers are well-positioned to help during the water crisis. They are still the main stewards of their customers’ green spaces, and called on to make improvements meant to save water. Think drip systems, water audits and wholesale landscape renovations.

You combine the technology and science and human behavior to solve the people problems.

– Chuck Bowen