To the Last Drop: Common sense and your lawn |

To the Last Drop: Common sense and your lawn

Lyn Halliday / For the Steamboat Today

— For the first time ever, mandatory water restrictions have been issued by water districts in Steamboat Springs. District managers take this decision seriously and base their action on scientific data, including flows in the river basins, snowpack, temperatures and precipitation.

Accordingly, it's time to provoke thought on ways we can change old habits that may not make a lot of sense to begin with. Take our turf grass lawns, for example. They can be things of beauty — green, lush and perfect places to recreate or relax. While we don't need to rid our yards of lawns, there are advantages in our climate to minimizing the places we grow grass and to encouraging attractive alternatives (think xeriscape).

A common misnomer for irrigating landscapes is that more is better, when in fact over-watering is not only wasteful and costly but also unhealthy for plants.

So in the areas where turf grass is a must, how much water is necessary? We can go into the many variables that contribute to plant health, such as soil condition, nutrients, pests and so forth. But as a rule of thumb, most of our soils here are high in clay and don't absorb water quickly. It therefore is important to apply water at a reduced rate and in cycles to maximize infiltration. Generally, most lawns will do just fine with watering three days per week at a total of 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water per week. And everyone now should know that watering during the day (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) is not at all efficient while also in violation of the mandatory water restrictions.

Here are some tips for lawn irrigation application rates:

Water once in the morning (before 9 a.m.) and once in the evening (after 7 p.m.) at 1 to 1 1/2 inches per week. If you have a sprinkler system, set it to avoid over-watering.

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Water at a maximum rate of a half-inch per hour for optimum absorption. Select rotary nozzles that use stream spray for multi-trajectory and slow delivery of water.

Use a smart controller, ET-based controller, wireless rain sensors and/or adjusting timers to conserve water and grow healthier turf and plants.

Cut your lawn no shorter than 3 inches to reduce soil moisture loss and to promote deeper roots.

Avoid planting trees and shrubs or sodding new lawns during the drier, hotter months of summer.

Don't forget that rebates are available for irrigation and other water-conservation retrofits. Visit for more information.

Lyn Halliday is an environmental scientist and owner of Environmental Solutions Unltd LLC, which consults locally on environmental issues and was instrumental in the development of the Steamboat Springs Water Conservation Plan.

Stage 2 mandatory water restrictions:

• Potable water shall be used for beneficial purposes and should not be wasted.

• No outdoor watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

• Outdoor watering schedule is based on the last number of the customer’s street address. Odd-numbered addresses can water Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays; even-numbered addresses can water Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. There is no watering permitted Wednesdays.

• No vehicle washing at residences.

• No washing hard surfaces such as driveways, sidewalks and parking areas. Sweep with a broom instead.

• No running outdoor water features.

• No use of domestic water for dust control.

• Limit the filling of swimming pools to one filling per year, unless draining for repairs.

• Permits may be secured for newly-sodded lawns and newly-planted trees for as many as 14 consecutive days and for newly-seeded lawns for as many as 25 consecutive days with the exception of Wednesdays.

Tips for conserving water

• Avoid watering in windy conditions.

• Adjust sprinklers to avoid watering hard surfaces. Set timers to avoid over-watering.

• Because our clay soils restrict penetration of water, it is better to water for three short intervals than for one long interval.

• When irrigating with a hose, use a spring-loaded nozzle, not a free-running hose.

• Cut your lawn no shorter than three inches to reduce soil moisture loss and to promote deeper roots.

• Avoid planting trees and shrubs or sodding new lawns during the drier, hotter months.

• Plant native grasses and shrubs or drought-tolerant species in place of water-intensive species.

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