City of Spokane residents might want to pay attention to their water bills as they set up their irrigation systems for the year. As of Jan. 1, the method used to calculate water rates within the city has changed. Instead of being charged less per unit the more they use, homeowners will now be charged more per unit the more they use.
For all of us in the area, the Spokane Rathdrum Aquifer provides more water than we can use but summer landscape irrigation has a measurable effect on the Spokane River’s flow. This affects the overall health of the river. We actually use twice the state’s average residential water use, most of that as summer landscape watering. Resetting our mindset as well as our landscape management is going to take time, energy and money but it can be done over time and in manageable chunks.
The first and easiest thing to do is make sure your existing water system is working efficiently. Check heads and replace any broken or plugged ones with more efficient new ones. Check for leaks in pipes and valves. Set sprinklers to water less often but longer to get water deep into the soil.
In your landscape, group plants by their water needs so it’s easy to give them what they need. This can be done bed by bed over several years as you have time and money. Consider adding native plants or plants that do well in hot, dry summer heat to the drier areas of the garden. Mulch all your plantings with two to three inches of bark or compost to reduce evaporation and keep moisture in the soil.
Do you really need all the lawn you have? Lawns use twice as much water as flower and shrub beds. Leave enough for the kids, the dogs or a fire break and replace other areas with drought tolerant plantings or a new outdoor patio or shelter where you can enjoy the garden. This can be done over several years to manage costs and labor.
Irrigation technology has been changing rapidly so consider replacing old timers with newer ones that allow flexible watering cycles and can be adjusted easily as the weather changes. Rain sensors are available that will turn off systems after a good rain.
Water delivery technology has also been changing rapidly. The old throw-water-everywhere heads are being replaced with ones that target where the water is applied. New types of drip, microspray and soaker technology allow you to get water right to the plants.
Want to know more? The Spokane County Utilities Division’s Water Resources Department’s website links to some very good information and resource sites where you can explore the range of technologies, techniques and plants to reduce and better manage landscape watering. After you have educated yourself, talk to a quality irrigation specialist and develop a manageable strategy you can implement in stages.