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Thursday, March 24,2011

Water conservation starts outside

Slow the Flow and other programs help residents save money, resource

By Katherine Creel

For many people, “water conservation” conjures images of five-minute showers and low-flow toilets.

And while those things are important, the biggest water savings can be found outside the home — in fact, right outside the home. According to a 2004 Denver Water study, roughly 50 percent of municipal water use goes to landscaping and lawn care. According to Jeff Woodward, director of the Center for ReSource Conservation’s water division, that figure can be even higher where lawns are larger and rain more scarce.

“It takes a lot of water to support turf,” Woodward says.

But sometimes not as much as we think. Overwatering, leaky irrigation systems and incorrect watering schedules can mean residents are laying out more water than they need to.

That’s where CRC’s “Slow the Flow” program comes in. From June through August, Boulder County residents can schedule an outdoor inspection with a professionally trained water auditor. The auditor looks at the irrigation or sprinkler system and offers in-depth advice on all aspects of your setup, from the little things like when and how much to water to big things like repairs and whether your current system is really the best for your yard.

“Every property is different, so that’s going to control how the system operates,” says Alison Layman, communications coordinator at CRC. “Inspectors turn on the system to see how it actually works.”

Slow the Flow is free for Boulder County residents, and inspections take one and a half to two hours. To be eligible, you must receive water from a participating water provider and have an operating underground irrigation system. In addition to trouble-shooting any problems you might have with your system, the water auditor also provides a customized watering schedule, recommendations and tips to make your sprinkler system more effective and efficient, and tips for do-it-yourself sprinkler maintenance.

Slow the Flow isn’t only for homeowners. In some areas, CRC also works with homeowners associations and commercial properties.

“If you live in an apartment, you might not be able to sign yourself up, but we encourage you to talk to your HOA or building manager,” says Layman.

Another way to reduce outdoor water usage is to reduce the demand. Growing non-native plants in Boulder County’s dry climate requires a large amount of water. CRC’s Garden in a Box provides plants native to Boulder that not only survive but thrive with limited watering.

“They’re good for people not from Colorado who don’t know how to grow in the soil,” says Layman. And to make gardening even easier, the kits come with a plant-by-numbers guide that shows where to place each plant to maximize water efficiency.

According to Woodward, Garden in a Box landscapes use less than half the amount of water as traditional turf yards. During summer, when outdoor watering is at its peak, a hardier, drought-resistant yard can help save a significant amount on water bills.

If you’ve already had a Slow the Flow inspection, or just want some interesting tips on reducing water usage, CRC is holding a series of water seminars April 11-19, covering topics such as xeriscaping, rainwater harvesting and drip irrigation. The seminars are free and open to the public.

And while the most dramatic water savings can be found outdoors, there are significant steps you can take inside as well.

According to Woodward, two of the most cost-effective measures are installing faucet aerators on kitchen and bathroom sinks and switching to low-flow showerheads. Woodward estimates that these simple and inexpensive devices pay for themselves in a matter of months.

For more information on CRC’s Slow the Flow program and other conservation recommendations, visit their website at www.conservationcenter.org, or call 303-999-3820.
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