Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Water conservation blog series will help you save water

Fountains are off, trees and shrubs watered less frequently on Capitol Campus

By Curt Hart, communications director, Washington Department of Enterprise Services and Dan Partridge, communications manager, Ecology Water Resources Program

Communities across Washington state are turning to water conservation measures as our statewide drought is shaping up to be the worst drought in modern state history.

Yesterday, Everett, Seattle and Tacoma announced voluntary reductions in water use and are providing their customers with tips on how to achieve a 10 percent reduction in water use.

Beginning today to help our state residents who want to contribute to water conservation across Washington, we are beginning a weekly blog series to help answer the question, “ What can I do to save water in my home, yard and business?”

We will be offering practical advice on water conservation measures and will be looking at the lessons we all can learn from water conservation success stories across our state.

To start, we don’t have to look far for water savings right here in Olympia.

Conserving water on the Capitol Campus

After Gov. Jay Inslee declared the statewide drought emergency in May 2015, the Washington Department of Enterprise Services (DES) took a lead role in conserving water on the Capitol Campus in Olympia.

DES is the state agency responsible for managing the 485-acre campus – a public resource for all state citizens – which includes the state Capitol and Supreme Court buildings, the Governor’s Mansion, about 50 other buildings and structures, four parks and Capitol Lake.

To immediately start curbing state water use, DES didn’t turn on the historic Tivoli Fountain, which we typically run from late spring through early autumn. The fountain loses about 2,000 gallons of water a day through evaporation, wind spray and leakage.

We also shut down the Du Pen fountain and a small decorative fountain behind the Governor’s Mansion. In addition, DES:
  • Stopped most irrigation of the campus lawns, letting the grass go brown and dormant. We are doing limited lawn watering in areas where the vegetation shows signs of extreme heat stress to protect the public’s investment.
  • Put up signs letting visitors know that the grass is golden and the fountains are off due to the drought.
  • Is irrigating well-established trees and shrub beds less frequently, deeply and before 10 a.m. or after sunset when the wind is calm.
  • Is inspecting, testing and repairing irrigation systems to address leaks and overspray.

Building on past conservation practices

Besides significantly reducing watering campus lawns, trees and shrubs, we are also making sure the water conservation measures that DES put in place inside all the buildings on the campus in 2007 are still in place and working as expected.

By installing low-flow plumbing fixtures – especially sinks, toilets and hot water heaters – DES has successfully reduced annual campus water use by 34 percent. In 2007, we used 44 million gallons but by 2014, the total amount had steadily dropped to 29 million gallons.

Our goal is to save another 6.5 million gallons in 2015 – a further 22 percent reduction – in response to the drought emergency.

Greener, more sustainable landscaping

In addition to the water conservation measures in the buildings on the campus, DES groundskeepers have been shifting to more environmentally-friendly care and maintenance practices designed to save water and lower operating costs while maintaining and enhancing the beauty of the Capitol grounds. DES has put in place a new set of campus landscape managing goals including:
  • Integrating more native plants into campus landscapes to reduce water use. DES has planted thousands of snowberry bushes, red-flowering currants, Oregon grape and other Pacific Northwest trees and shrubs.
  • Replacing annual with perennial flowers including Asiatic lilies, daylilies, coneflower and columbine.
  • Eliminating the use of pesticides in targeted areas and reducing overall use across the campus.
  • Improving soil quality for better plant health.
  • Experimenting with different types of organic weed control methods.
Our groundskeepers are working to reduce campus-wide pesticide use by 15 percent in 2016 and are experimenting with vinegar and mineral-based herbicides to control weeds. They also have been:
  • Using cardboard, paper and burlap to prevent weeds from sprouting.
  • Putting down arborist wood chips instead of beauty bark because the chips release nutrients slowly to the system and absorb large amounts of water that is slowly released to the soil.
  • Reusing leaves saved from the previous fall, tilling it into campus landscape beds to activate the soil microorganisms and improve the soil’s water and nutrient holding capacity, so less irrigation is needed.
DES takes its role as steward of the public’s facilities and resources – including water supplies – quite seriously. The agency’s leadership in water conservation provides a model for government agencies and businesses committed to saving water – a resource even more precious in our statewide drought.

Other resources for saving water:

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