Water Conservation in the Urban Landscape

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  • 1 Dept. of Plants, Soils, and Biometerology, Utah State Univ., Logan UT 84322

As populations become increasingly urbanized, landscape water conservation becomes more important. Landscape water consumption can increase municipal water use up to 4-fold during the growing season, and account for half the total yearly water use. Landscape water conservation is important in decreasing peak summer water demand to reduce the strain on delivery systems, and to reduce total demand so that development of new sources can be forestalled. Potential water savings from existing landscapes can be estimated by comparing historical usage gleaned from water meter readings to plant water needs estimated from reference evapotranspiration. Estimating water needs for turf is straightforward because of the few species involved and the uniformity of turf landscapes. Estimating water needs of woody plants is more difficult because of the heterogeneity of woody plants and how they are used, and woody plants respond to evaporative demand differently than turfgrass. Many woody plants will actually use less water as reference evapotranspiration increases due to stomatal closure induced by high leaf-air vapor pressure gradients. Landscape water is then conserved by either applying water more effectively in scheduling when and how long to irrigate based on estimating water use again from reference evapotranspiration, or by replacing areas in turfgrass with plants more-adapted to the existing conditions. Encouraging water conservation by end users is the final and largest challenge. Automated irrigation systems makes wasting water easy, while conserving water takes more effort. Education is the key to successful landscape water conservation.

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