Nevada Drought Forum Testimony
Transcript of testimony by Heidi Kratsch, President, Nevada Landscape Association – July 17, 2015
How has drought affected your industry?
Over two-thirds of household water is used on landscapes, and Nevada is the driest state in the nation. Therefore, members of the Nevada Landscape Association have a great interest in conserving water.
However, we believe that keeping landscapes alive and maintaining property values should be a priority for policy makers.
We are particularly alarmed about the number of property owners taking the drastic step to remove entire lawns in the name of water conservation. While removing small, non-functional areas of lawn grass can lower outdoor water consumption, removing whole lawns and replacing them with rock or decomposed granite can be devastating to landscape plants, especially our trees. Trees provide shade to the landscape and reduce water needs. They keep homes cool in summer and reduce soil erosion. They add value to landscapes, and make our landscapes livable.
Our local arborists have reported a dramatic increase in the numbers of trees in decline and tree death as a result of lawn removal. The city of Reno spends tens of thousands of dollars each year removing mature street trees that have died because adjacent property owners refuse to water them, or their front yards, due to cost and the threat of ongoing drought. When trees die on private property, they become a public safety issue and can cost residents several thousand dollars for each tree removed by a private contractor.
It can take a long time – 10, 20 or even 50 years to grow back mature shade trees.
Trees are the most valuable asset in our landscapes – they increase property values and provide cooling shade to homes and other landscape plants. There is a 4.9 percent tree canopy over the Truckee Meadows. The stormwater and annual air pollution offset of these trees is valued at $40.9 million and $1.5 million, respectively.*
Lawns are not the villain during drought. Appropriately planned and irrigated lawns can provide an evaporative cooling effect to the landscape, which reduces landscape water consumption. Most people over-water their lawns, yet appropriately managed lawns can be a helpful addition to water-efficient landscapes. Ultimately, thoughtless lawn removal does not result in long-term water savings, it increases energy consumption from summer air conditioning systems, and it heats up our cities and makes them less livable.
What has your industry done to respond to drought?
Education is the key to meaningful and long-term reductions in outdoor water use. In the western part of the state, we have partnered with Truckee Meadows Water Authority and the University of Nevada, Reno to create a plan for educating the public about reducing landscape water use. The Nevada Landscape Association offers continuing education about landscape water conservation to its members. We run a certification program to train landscapers in best management practices for maintenance and irrigation of landscapes. Our members educate their clients about water-efficient landscaping practices. We work with radio, TV and newspapers to communicate simple, easy to remember messages to the public.
As an example of a more thoughtful and measured approach to water conservation, one of our members worked with a local property management company to reduce their water bill. The entire property consisted of lawn, from the building foundations all the way out the fence surrounding the property. By removing the grass from the first few feet around the buildings and fence line and replacing it with drought-tolerant plants, they were able to protect the structures from deterioration by frequent irrigation AND lowered their water bill by 25 to 30 percent. And the existing trees were protected from the effects of drought stress.
What major obstacles exist to overcoming additional levels of water efficiency in your industry?
Inefficient landscape irrigation is the biggest landscape water waster.
Old, outdated irrigation systems are estimated to be only 35 percent efficient, and the cost to repair or replace them can easily derail water conservation efforts.
Many older neighborhoods and subdivisions have landscape irrigation systems that were installed before we knew or thought much about landscape water conservation. Irrigation systems that throw water to unplanted areas or that cannot be scheduled to irrigate during the cooler parts of the day due to poor design need to be replaced. No amount of education will help this situation if the property owner is unwilling or unable to afford a system redesign. Rather than rebates for removal of turfgrass, we would like to see rebates offered to large property owners for replacement of old, inefficient irrigations systems.
New irrigation technologies exist for helping property owners water more efficiently. Rain sensors and ET-based “smart” controllers can help save landscape water. But these technologies are expensive. Rebates could also be offered to homeowners who purchase smart controllers.
We CAN save water AND our landscapes!
*Data based on information collected several years ago from an Urban Tree Canopy Assessment Study funded by the Nevada Division of Forestry and the USDA Forest Service. Las Vegas has done a similar study.