Want a green lawn? You can have that and help conserve water, too

Published: Apr. 2, 2019 at 5:47 PM CDT
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The water conservation program of the Brazos Valley, BV WaterSmart, garnered two state awards recently for their water conserving efforts and educational activities toward reducing water waste.

Sprinkler System watering lawn.

BV WaterSmart aids in reduction of overwatering by monitoring rainfall stations and providing both daily and weekly watering recommendations. (Photo courtesy of BV WaterSmart.)

Since 2010 the program has contributed to a cumulative annual reduction amounting to about two months of College Station’s water use. Today College Station uses about three percent more water than it did in 2010, while its population has increased by more than 20 percent.

“This program focused on conserving water by reducing overwatering of lawns and landscapes,” said Dr. Ronald Kaiser, director of BV WaterSmart and professor at Texas A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “We are improving water efficiency by reducing wasteful lawn overwatering.”

The partnership between Texas A&M, the Brazos Valley Groundwater Conservation District and the City of College Station has led to the collaboration of faculty, staff and graduate students from the university’s water management and hydrological science program, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and the Texas Center for Applied Technology working with the city and district to develop the program.

Prakash Khedun, the data scientist on the project and program coordinator for the water management and hydrological science program, explained that lawn and landscape watering budgeting helped guide targeted educational interventions.

“We developed these budgets by looking at the size of their landscape area and plant water needs derived from our turfgrass research lab here on campus, determining how much water should be applied by the homeowners,” Khedun said. “We are continuously updating our dataset with consumption data from the city, and we run statistical analyses to determine if the educational interventions are having an influence on water usage.”

Targeting outdoor water usage, primarily lawn and irrigation use, the program has focused on educational interventions and creating water budgets for over 15,000 residential customers throughout the Bryan and College Station area, Kaiser said.

“Residents are provided recommendations during summer months based on evapotranspiration – looking at rainfall or lack of rainfall – and how much water should be applied by the homeowners,” Kaiser said.

The Brazos Valley Groundwater District provided all the major funding for the project, rainfall measuring stations and website, said Alan Day, general manager for the Brazos Valley Groundwater District.

“We now have 17 rainfall stations throughout the Bryan and College Station area, and we can be more precise than only using rainfall data from the weather bureau at the airport,” Kaiser said.

Now, BV WaterSmart can utilize these rainfall stations and tell customers whether or not to water their lawns by how much rain each station has recorded for that week.

“Our recommendations are on runtimes,” he said. “For example, run your sprinklers for 20 minutes twice a week, or 10 minutes twice a week, based on the water that the plant actually needs. So it is really precision irrigation.”

Customers may sign up for a weekly update received every Monday through the program’s website, https://bvwatersmart.tamu.edu/, or they may check the site daily for updates.

The program also provides free irrigation checkups, courtesy of the City of College Station, he said. Graduate students will check systems for leaks, misplaced watering and provide some educational advice to homeowners on when to water and not water.

It also provides three water conservation seminars in College Station every year, explaining how systems work, how to adjust timers, how to maintain systems and how to recognize and fix leaks.

“People are paying attention to the amount of water that they use,” Day said. “All of these things have impacted the community, and the community is aware that water is important. When you see water use going down in municipalities for no other reason than it has been brought to their attention — with populations going up and water usage going down — you’ve got to say you are having an impact.”

BV WaterSmart received the 2019 Texas Environmental Excellence award for water conservation.

“This is the state’s highest environmental honor recognizing projects for achievements in environmental preservation and protection. Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality commissioners jointly selected the winners based on recommendations from a blue-ribbon committee,” Kaiser said.

BV WaterSmart will be recognized at a banquet on May 15 as part of the TCEQ’s Environmental Trade Fair and Conference at the Austin Convention Center.

The 2019 Texas Water Development Board also awarded BV WaterSmart with the Municipal Blue Legacy award, which honors programs for enhanced conservation of water.

“Recognition is given to those who have demonstrated an outstanding and innovative commitment to the state’s mission of promoting responsible management of water resources as well as conservation of Texas’ water resources,” Kaiser said. The Award was presented on March 13 as part of “Texas Water Day” at the Texas State Capitol.

“These two awards that we won were really in recognition of the innovativeness of these two programs,” Kaiser said. “The key is to be efficient; don’t put down any more water than your lawn actually needs.”

To view water recommendations, sign up for the weekly newsletter or request a free irrigation check-up, visit https://bvwatersmart.tamu.edu/ (in the Related Links).