Nationwide drought: Texans must conserve water

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By Todd Danielson, Vice President, Engineering, Texas Water Utilities

Record heat, below-average rainfall and wildfires are having a significant impact on Texans. Farmers are finding creative ways to grow their crops, and water utilities are being forced to impose restrictions on irrigation. With extreme heat comes additional water use and it is important to understand why additional conservation methods are needed, especially during a drought.

According to the US Drought Monitor, 80% of Texans are currently suffering from drought. As temperatures rise, the soil dries up, people start using more water outdoors, and reservoir levels drop.

By conserving water, you save money on your water bill and leave more water for you and your neighbors when the drought persists. Texas Water Utilities offers the following tips for conserving water outdoors this summer:

• Water your garden in the morning or evening. By choosing a time of day with minimal direct sunlight (usually before sunrise) you can help prevent water loss through evaporation before it has a chance to seep into the soil.

• Monitor your sprinkler system. Make sure there are no leaks in the system and that the heads are only watering what they should (plants/landscaping). Monitor the weather regularly to make sure you don’t water on a rainy day.

• Use the canned tuna method. Place an empty tuna can on the part of your lawn that will be irrigated. Once the tuna can is filled, turn off your sprinkler. This will ensure your lawn has received enough water for the week. If water runs off your lawn, you may need to split that watering into two or three separate applications.

• Use a commercial car wash. Washing your car at home uses about 116 gallons of water, while a commercial car wash uses about 60% less water. Commercial car washes must properly dispose of wastewater, including detergent, and many filter and recycle their water. If you wash your car at home, use non-toxic, phosphate-free soaps sparingly and wash on a permeable surface like grass or gravel to filter drain. Minimize runoff by reducing water use, restricting water flow with a spray nozzle, and wringing sponges/rags over a bucket or sink.

• Maintain your landscape regularly. Replace mulch around shrubs and garden plants to help them retain moisture. If necessary, remove weeds and thatch so they don’t compete for water with your desired plants.

• Minimize or eliminate fertilizers. Fertilizer encourages thirsty new growth, causing your landscape to need extra water. If you need fertilizer, look for a product that contains “natural organic” or “slow-release” ingredients. Use native plants in your garden to avoid the need for fertilizers and pesticides and use less water.

• Increase the cutting height of your lawn mower. Longer grass encourages deeper root growth and a more drought-resistant lawn. Cutting off more than a third of the blade of grass at a time could shock the plant and prevent it from growing healthily. Mulching grass clippings back onto your lawn provides moisture, organic matter and fertilizer, reducing water requirements.

• Try xeriscaping, also known as “dry landscaping”. This landscaping requires less maintenance and is good for the environment. Consider using native drought-tolerant plants like Texas Sage, Texas Redbud, Desert Willow, and Trailing Lantana.

Much of the water used by the average American household is used outdoors. Here we can make simple but significant changes that will have a positive impact. Small changes, when done on a large scale, add up to a big change. Every drop counts, and every Texan can make a difference.

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