Commercial landscapes need irrigation. But, in many areas across the country, water is scarce, and conservation is critical. According to a report by the American Water Works Association (AWWA), Commercial, Industrial, and Institutional (CII) landscapes utilize 2.4 billion gallons of water per day. Meanwhile, the EPA reports that at least 40 states anticipate water shortages by 2024. So, when it comes to landscaping and irrigation, how can businesses save water while also preserving aesthetically pleasing environments?
To try to answer this question, we dive (get it?) into the areas of water capture and conservation.
Rainwater: Free Water for Landscaping and Irrigation
Let’s start with no-cost water—rainwater! One of the simplest ways to conserve water and lower irrigation costs is to capture rainfall and stormwater using rainwater barrels or cisterns. This strategy reduces dependence on municipal water supplies while decreasing the burden on local water infrastructure. Especially in regions facing water scarcity or drought conditions, rainwater harvesting conserves precious freshwater resources. What’s more, state and local agencies offer rebates and other incentives to companies that harvest rainwater.
Not only does rainwater harvesting make sense in droughted regions, but it can also provide environmental benefits in wet years and climates. Case in point, as California saw recent record-breaking storms, vast amounts of rainwater swept across parking lots and roofs, carrying pollution into streams and rivers while threatening erosion and straining storm management systems. Capturing and utilizing rainwater on-site, where it can be managed effectively, creates a free water supply while reducing the environmental impact of runoff.
Although pure rainwater is soft water and excellent for irrigation, stormwater often contains chemicals or sediments. To counter this, cisterns or larger rainwater harvesting systems can incorporate filtration mechanisms to remove debris and pollutants.
Revisiting Sprinkler Systems
Sprinkler systems for landscapes are necessary but often inefficient. Frequently, their dispersed water misses their targets, washes away over concrete, evaporates, or continues to spray even when it’s raining. The result isn’t just water waste. Energy is also wasted in pumping water from storage facilities. Fortunately, sprinkler systems can be modified and upgraded to benefit the landscape and your bottom line. Here are just a few possibilities:
- Changing systems to suit the specific plants being watered can save a huge amount of water and benefit the plants at the same time. For example, bubblers work well for trees, while driplines are ideal for raised beds and sloped areas, where a slow application of water prevents runoff and soil erosion.
- If a new irrigation system isn’t possible, consider retrofitting traditional pop-up spray heads. Switching heads to multi-stream rotational nozzles or matched-precipitation rotators can reduce water usage by 30 to 45 percent. And because they use fewer gallons per minute and distribute water more uniformly, these spray heads prevent overwatering and promote healthier plants.
- Soil and weather sensors can be integrated into existing sprinkler systems, playing a crucial role in water conservation. Soil sensors monitor moisture levels in the soil, enabling irrigation to occur only when necessary. Weather sensors gather data on temperature, humidity, rainfall, and evapotranspiration rates, allowing for real-time adjustments to watering schedules based on actual weather conditions. Using either of these types of sensors can result in significant water savings and promote efficient water usage.
Permeable Paving: Water-Saving Hardscaping
Hardscapes are an essential part of commercial landscapes. Unfortunately, impermeable surfaces such as traditional concrete can lead to water runoff and evaporation, contributing to soil erosion and water pollution.
There is an alternative though—permeable surfaces. These surfaces function similarly to their traditional counterparts but with the added benefit of allowing water to percolate into the ground or a drainage system through openings or porous joints. Permeable hardscape materials include options like porous asphalt, pervious concrete, and permeable interlocking concrete pavement (PICP). These alternative surfaces offer a sustainable alternative for some hardscape areas, including several advantages:
- Stormwater Management: Permeable paving reduces stormwater runoff by allowing rainwater to infiltrate the ground rather than flow into storm drains. This minimizes the risk of flooding and the need for wet detention ponds.
- Groundwater Recharge: By allowing water to penetrate into the soil, permeable paving contributes to groundwater recharge. This is particularly important in areas where water availability is limited, and conserving water resources is crucial.
- Reduced Heat Island Effect: Permeable surfaces absorb less heat than traditional impervious surfaces like concrete or asphalt. This helps mitigate the urban heat island effect, where urban areas become significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas.
- Improved Water Quality: Permeable paving facilitates natural filtration of stormwater as it percolates through the ground. The filtration process helps remove pollutants and contaminants, enhancing water quality and protecting local water bodies.
- Cold Weather Advantages: Permeable paving has also been found to reduce the need for road salt. In fact, research from the University of New Hampshire showed permeable asphalt needs 0 to 25 percent of the salt typically applied to regular asphalt.
Back to Basics with Regular Landscaping and Irrigation Maintenance
Finally, regular and vigilant maintenance can be one of the simplest and most effective ways to conserve water. Small measures like regularly checking your irrigation system for leaks, and repairing them promptly, will go a long way toward lowering bills.
Regularly replenishing mulch around plants and shrubs is another effective practice for water conservation. Mulch acts as a protective layer on the soil surface, shielding the soil from direct sunlight and wind exposure. It helps retain soil moisture, regulates soil temperature, and suppresses weeds that compete for water resources.
Know Your Soil
Another water-conservation optimizer is knowing more about your landscape’s soil composition and your local water quality. With the help of a smart landscaping professional, this information can be used to set irrigation schedules to match the specific needs of the soil and plants. Soil that has high clay content, for instance, may require less frequent watering but for longer durations to ensure proper water infiltration. Conversely, sandy soils may need more frequent but shorter watering sessions to prevent excessive runoff.
And There’s More
These solutions can do more than help you create a sustainable, cost-effective landscape. They can help pave the way to achieving LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification for your facility. Not only does LEED Certification prove your building or facility is energy-efficient and eco-friendly, but it also demonstrates a company’s broader commitment to environmental, social, and governance concerns while attracting employees and investors with similar values.
Landscaping and Irrigation Solutions: Try One or Try All
Rainwater harvesting, updated sprinkler systems, permeable hardscapes. Just one of these measures can make a difference—not just when it comes to preserving a valuable resource for future generations, but also to your bottom line. With available rebates and a potential draw to sustainability-minded investors, it might be time to try out all of our suggestions.