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2012-12-27

Water for Texas 2012 - Part IV Your water conservation benefits you first

By Milan J. Michalec BCC Contributor

(Author's note: Part 4 of this series offers practical approaches aimed at reducing your outdoor water use. One way is to simply look to the sky for your water supply. The result could very well be your water independence.)

In contrast to the weather, a subject that everyone talks about, but does nothing about, water conservation at home can make a significant difference in improving our water situation today.
Many know how to save water indoors ¬by fixing leaks, installing low water demand fixtures and appliances or taking shorter showers. But what else can be done?
The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) estimates that 40 percent of all municipal water use is outdoors. Of that, half is lost to runoff from the excessive watering of lawns. This is drinking water that is simply wasted.
Clearly this means that significant quantities of water could be conserved by reducing the amount of water that is used to keep grass green not only during the summer, but during the entire growing season. This is not to say that turf grass is the only culprit in water waste, but landscapes in general are known to be a major contributor.
Landscapes that have been appropriately designed for the local climate - using native and adapted plants and maintained with an organic program based on compost instead of chemical fertilizers - typically do well in times of low rainfall.
Perhaps more importantly for the homeowner, to protect this investment, these landscapes have significantly better chances of survival when drought restrictions are imposed over those with high water needs.
Xeriscape principles can be applied not only to cut outdoor water use, but also to save on maintenance cost. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency: "Based on site conditions, xeriscaping can reduce landscape maintenance requirements by up to 50 percent and reduce watering requirements by up to 60 percent.
To quantify these savings, look to your water bill if you currently have a yard that requires a lot of water, especially in the summer. Then calculate what you spend on chemical fertilizers, fuel for the lawn mower and your time. Added up annually, the potential savings are significant.
Much of our outdoor needs can be met through the capture, storage and use of gray water - water that was used for bathing or captured from a sink after washing. The most overlooked source comes from washing clothes. The storage and use of this water in the home landscape is approved by law through the Texas Administrative Code - up to 400 gallons without a permit.
The most significant potential source of water for the vegetable garden or landscape falls from the sky and simply runs off. Rainwater can be captured at a rate of approximately 650 gallons per inch of rain that falls every 1,000 square feet of roof. With additional equipment, this water can become drinking water-quality as it is in many areas of the state today.
Concerned it may not rain enough to catch enough? The statewide average is 28.4 inches. In an average year, Beaumont receives 52 inches; San Antonio, 32 inches; and El Paso, 12.
According to the National Climatic Data Center, though the year 2011 was the driest on record, the average total rainfall across Texas was 14.88 inches, beating the previous record low of 14.99 inches established in 1917.
Even in drought years it does rain, all you need is enough capture area and storage capacity to meet your estimated demands in between rain events.
Thinking about the sources of water and the use of it at the lowest possible level gets to the root of how to reduce our water shortfall - you and I taking personal responsibility today.
In the balance is both a huge investment in cost coupled with the long time span typically required to develop "new" water or the choice to make better use of the water that is available for the taking now.
Tipping that scale in your favor, through your actions, can lead to your water independence.

(Michalec is a Director on the Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District in Kendall County.)