Water Use For Agriculture and Landscape

Water use for Agriculture in California is estimated to be 80% of the total amount of water used in the state. Other states in the West have similar percentages. For example, 85% of the water used in Utah is for Agriculture, Arizona 74%, New Mexico 80%, and Colorado 89%. Yet, with all this water used for agriculture, most of the water conservation and sustainability programs are for landscape irrigation.

The landscape industry should do its part to conserve, but to be clear a reduction of landscape irrigation to zero will not solve the water issues. There is a lot of pressure on the landscape industry right now to save, but this laser focus will result in failure. Wasting water is an issue for the country and there is an invisible gun pointed at the landscape industry’s head right now. In life when someone points a gun at your head you either figure the problem out or you die.

In this case, if you are a landscaper, an irrigation manufacturer, a property manager, a homeowner, or a commercial property owner you need to solve the wasting water problem or the landscape industry is going to die.

Who is pointing the gun at us for wasting water?

The drought in California is real and severe. The recent rains will relieve some of the pressure near term, but the West is still in a drought.  Recently the Governor asked everyone to pitch in and reduce water use by 25%. In this announcement, almost 60% of the water uses now prohibited were for landscape irrigation. That is the gun and even though there are literally 100s of ways to save water the finger has been pointed predominately at the landscape industry. When it comes down to food or plants for aesthetic purposes, food is always going to win out.

The other term we hear often now is, water security, as in a lack of water, is a threat to homeland security. This is a real danger and so far the best way to save water has been to paint a bull’s eye on the back of the landscape industry. According to this article $390 million was allocated in just Southern California for turf replacement rebates in 2015. Turf replacement rebates have continued for years and have spread to other states.  Landscape water waste is obvious to everyone when there is water running down the gutters or misting away into the atmosphere.

As a result, the landscape industry has been quick to respond positively. I am proud the industry has taken responsibility for the water waste and is working to change. It is one of the rare instances where someone has pointed a finger and the response has been positive. However, I do find it funny that with hundreds of other ways to save, the major focus has been on landscape irrigation.

We need to push back

I get it, the focus is on landscape because it has been a big source of waste, and a very high percentage of water used in urban areas is for landscape irrigation. However, it seems to me the amount of attention compared to other industries is not appropriate.

80% of the water used in California is for agriculture. According to a 2010 study done by the Department of Water Resources 43% of the crops in California were being watered with by flood irrigation. Gravity irrigation is an imprecise method of irrigation that uses large amounts of fresh water. Many environmental advocates are quick to point out drip irrigation on farms could go a long water in solving the state’s water crisis. Why don’t we see more funds for drip irrigation on farms? What about incentives for technology to manage water on farms instead of rebates for reducing turf? Rebates in San Diego can me as high as $174,000 to take out an acre of turf. We can add technology, or drip irrigation to a farm at a fraction of the cost and have a much bigger reduction in water waste.

How many of you celebrate the mowing of your lawns with a cold beer. It takes about 20 gallons of water to make a pint of beer. Nobody is asking you or telling you to drink less beer or regulating the beer industry on how much beer they can produce. The same goes for soft drinks and soft drinks and beer are about as vital to our survival as aesthetically pleasing landscape.

We have water cops patrolling to see if you are watering your lawn on the wrong day or if water is running off into the gutter, yet most other waste goes unnoticed. Today a new home in California can only plant 30% of its landscape with turf. Imagine if there was a regulation on what percent of red meat you could eat during a week, or how much alcohol is consumable.

We need to keep doing what’s right

 Absolutely we need to do everything we can to conserve more water in landscapes. Educating clients and the industry is the first step. We know how to manage and conserve water, but first we have to be able to help consumers understand why we need to conserve.

We also as an industry need to make sure others are pitching in and doing their part too. Are you aware of what the Irrigation Association is doing for water management? How about your local contractor’s association or property management association? The gun is to our heads, part of solving the problem is to lead the industry and others to find better and more ways to conserve.

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One Response

  1. yes! I would also like to see agriculture use things like mulch instead of spraying for weeds. there’s more to water conservation than application methods.

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