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Water efficient landscapes…do they result in a positive environmental impact?


June 14, 2010
By Lorne Haveruk

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The focus on water has jumped…very high I might add…from the back seat
only a few years ago to the forefront of every conversation. The state
of the economy with the recession now behind us in most countries has
taken the cake for the best known topic as it hits us right where it
counts…in our wallet. 

Don’t be fooled by water. It is a hidden cost that will soon bear the full cost—not the subsidized one we currently pay—as governments, municipalities and water providers all wrestle with the systematic raising of the cost of providing water to a growing population.

thumb_irrigationwebThe green industry is no different than other industries that manufacture and produce goods and services. However, it has come under fire as the second largest water user with agriculture as number one. People say: well, agriculture feeds us so we can put up with the water consumption they need to produce food and feed for livestock, but landscape…who needs to be watering the plants? Plants can suffer if there is not enough rainfall and still live…right? In olden days, when rainfall was almost predictable and abundant…no problem. Nowadays…not the case as we are all aware of global warming and what it entails and how it already has changed our weather to an unpredictable state.  

The more water we use, the more greenhouse gases are produced. We, the green industry now, in recent years, have been provided with the technology to provide just-in-time water to the landscape plants to enable them to live…and show as they are inherently programmed to do so.

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By embracing the new technological wonders of high efficiency irrigation components, high efficiency irrigation design best practices and ET weather tracking irrigation controllers that automatically send updated weather data to the new breed of irrigation controllers, combined with thoughtful plant selection…native and others that are not water hogs, the green industry can become a steward of the environment, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused when excessive amounts of water are called for that should not be required if a little thought was put into what could be done to reduce the use.

By reducing what we need—already proven in projects where thousands of gallons of water were used that now hundreds of gallons are only required—we are making a change to the environment in a positive manner. How, then, can more users do even more so that we have a widespread positive impact on the environment and turn around this unwanted wrongful award of being water wasters…which we are not? 

We need to step back to see where the problems begin to be able to provide educated guesses to what we should do in hope of reversing some troubling outcomes that we are witnessing today.

The flow of water – whether through forest or river ecosystems or through human built environments—creates complex interconnections among people, places and issues. This connectedness is often viewed as a major challenge in addressing environmental issues because of the many values, interests and actors at play. But this interconnectedness also provides opportunities. For water soft paths, the opportunities lie in the interconnections between water and energy, and the related climate change implications.

The story of these interconnections—often referred to as the “water–energy nexus”—has two sides. Huge amounts of water are required to generate energy—to power the turbines in hydro-electric facilities, for cooling in thermal or nuclear energy plants, and to extract oil from Alberta’s tar sands. Indeed, collectively, the energy sector is the single largest user of water in Canada (Environment Canada, 2005). At the same time, large amounts of energy are required to pump, treat and distribute water for urban, industrial and agricultural use and to deal with resulting wastes. Together, the two sides of this story are generating new research, policy proposals and public dialogue that will be critical as societies struggle to address the intersecting challenges of climate change, energy security and water scarcity.”1

SMART Watering Systems Inc., a Toronto and Vancouver water conservation firm, is one example of a company helping property owners quantify their carbon footprint reduction through water savings. 

“Our clients place great value on water savings, and the energy-water nexus is something they know about and are directly linking to their overall building footprints and environmental impact”, says Chris Le Conte, founder of SMART Watering Systems Inc.

“Right now in water everyone is talking about the energy–water nexus, that being the energy and carbon cost related to using municipally treated and pumped potable water. It is well known that in the summer months the city of Toronto uses 30 per cent of its energy to treat and pump water and this generates 10 per cent of the city’s GHG emissions. What is also interesting to note is that during hot dry periods, energy use is at its peak and as communities we are asked to reduce our energy use. However, during this energy peak our water departments are ramping up their water treatment and pumping facilities to meet landscape water demands. To many, the energy savings from reduced water demand is a “side effect” to water efficiency, but it is being talked about more and more. So, in this case, water efficiency/reduction at the landscape can result in positive environmental impact on irrigated properties and in our communities as well.2

“From a municipal water services perspective (the people that administer watering bylaws, efficiency plans, etc) they are most concerned about ‘Peak Day Demand.’ That is, the top level demands at the peak of summer water use (typically after five to six days of hot, dry weather). During peak day demand, water reservoirs and treatment capacity falls below critical operating levels and this impacts the ability to fight fires, provide residents with potable water, etc. Peak day demand management is very important now since it is becoming very expensive to build new treatment plants to keep up with population growth, and many water resources are close to capacity and this is forcing municipalities to look to other sources of supply (this is referred to as the ‘soft path’ to water management). Water efficiency is what water departments are turning to cope with massive population growth.2

“These changes in our water reality are forcing changes at many levels of supply chains as well. For example, in the irrigation industry right now, virtually all irrigation manufacturers are making low, medium and high end irrigation system control devices that save water by adjusting irrigation schedules as ET rates and weather patterns change. Combined with this, building automation system and rainwater harvesting manufacturers are creating products that allow an end-user to track how much potable, rain and greywater they are using, the quality of that water, the availability of that water (tank levels) etc. I believe that in the past, the water industry has been segmented with indoor water efficiency people doing indoor things like toilets, faucet aerators and process water people doing cooling tower retrofits, process water recycling and process refinement that requires less water. These groups have been operating in silos, but now the water industry is converging and these segments are blurring together. Manufacturers of water-efficient products see large opportunity in not only the products but also the management of the resource. They want to measure, manage and monitor water capture, use and re-use.”2 

Bill Gauley, principal of Veritiec Consulting Inc., in the OWWA Outdoor Water Use Manual, June 2008, co-produced by the OWWA Water Efficiency Committee, states that “an outdoor water use reduction program that reduces average irrigation demand by 100 litres per household per day during the summer could save approximately 7.4 kg of CO2 per household each year.”3  

As you can see that the more efficiently water is used, the greater the chance we have at helping keep the earth’s air clean, thus resulting in a positive environmental impact. Everything we do and can do in moderation, rather than excess, will have a positive effect.

Where do some of our current environmental problems begin? Now you have one answer to this question. Water, energy and the environment are interconnected. What could we do to help reverse some troubling outcomes that we are witnessing today? To use less water would be a good answer and a good place for the green industry to focus our attention to. Issues are surfacing daily from water restrictions having to be implemented due to dry periods extending more than 10 years. The green industry must embrace new technology that allows those responsible for the delivery of water to do so in a just-in-time manner known as “water with the weather, not by time,” making every drop count.

It is imperative that correct information be gleaned from what has been and continues to go on in regards water and the landscape. Bylaws are being formulated on the basis of incomplete information by those that are striving to understand the issues at hand. This is a major issue and needs to have experts involved in the planning to be successful. If reduction of peak demand, caused by improper irrigation, some will have you believe – then why not ask the leaders of the irrigation industry how best to deal with the problem? Why just come up with an educated guess rather than facts to reach a solution…one in many cases that causes people that do water their landscapes (not just lawns) to overwater due to the new restrictions being put in place. 

Time and day allocations dictating when a plant needs to drink is incorrect. If it is to allow water infrastructure systems to recharge, and this is what must be done, then so be it. However, if the bylaw was put in place only because others have done it…is this going to solve problems that differ depending upon where you live?

One of the main issues with current irrigation is design done poorly or not at all. Systems have been planned, designed installed and maintained that are far more efficient at watering landscape plants than hose end watering could ever be. 

Victoria, B.C. was going through a drought a while back and still continues to have water shortage issues due to a growing population and (now) undersized water storage capacity. They banned irrigation except for low volume surface and subsurface irrigation of plants. Very progressive and a step in the right direction for reduction of outdoor water use the correct way. 

Redesign the planter spray beds (water hogs) to low volume (water savers) to appease the people, reduce water use while at the same time directing business to the irrigation sector…rather than forcing them out of business. 

A win-win situation for all.

The beauty of living now and being in business now is that we are right in the midst of change. Change for the better if we just step back and focus on what is best for the environment which also allows us to do our job. The time of the water waster is long gone! The time to become a steward of the environment is here and demands you step up to the plate and deliver the best of the best….water efficiency in everything that we do so we deliver a positive environmental impact. 

The future is yours to shape by doing your part to reduce greenhouse gases from reduced water use, helping to preserve the environment for future generations to enjoy.

Lorne Haveruk, CID, CWCM-L, CIC, CGIA, CLIA, WCP, principal, DH Water Management, a Water Resource Management Firm focused on alternative efficient water solutions. Visit  www.dhwatermgmt.com.or email  lorne@dhwatermgmt.com for information. This material is for information purposes and is not intended to provide legal advice.

References
• Greenhouse Gas and Energy Co-Benefits of Water Conservation, PPOLIS Discussion Series Paper 08-01, Carol Maas
•SMART Watering Systems Inc. Chris Le Conte, www.smartwateringsystems.ca
• OWWA Outdoor Water Use Reduction Manual, June 2008, Bill Gauley, Veritec Consulting Inc., bill@veritriec.ca