Wednesday, October 7, 2015

From city lots to irrigated crops—working with your conservation district to find the right water conservation solution for you

by Laura Johnson, Communications Coordinator, Washington State Conservation Commission

In 2015, Washingtonians began making jokes about “the rain drop” becoming the newest endangered species. But our drought is no laughing matter. Gardens wilted, streams ran dry, and crops were lost.

The drought impacted communities across Washington in different ways. Fortunately, each county is served by at least one conservation district, and they can help you find the right water conservation strategy for your property. The following are examples of projects conservation districts may be able to help you with.

Around the home: Water-wise landscaping
Heritage Garden
Benton Conservation District

  • Heritage Gardens promote the use of native, culturally significant plants and low water-use landscaping. These are sprouting up throughout the United States. Converting lawn to Heritage Gardens can save thousands of gallons of water per year, protecting landscapes during drought years like 2015 and into the future. Benton and Franklin Conservation Districts, in partnership with the Columbia Basin Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society, are implementing a Heritage Garden Program that offers local landowners free information, on-site recommendations, and a workshop on November 14. Learn more about Benton Conservation District’s response to the drought.
  • Smartscaping or Xeriscaping provides another lawn alternative. These landscapes include a mix of plants, trees, and edibles that require little to no irrigation, even in periods of drought. Spokane Conservation District’s SmartScape website provides free tips, plant suggestions, and even landscape designs to help you get started. 
  • When the clouds finally break, rain gardens allow you to use runoff from hard surfaces, such as roofs and driveways, to water your plants. They also replenish groundwater and reduce ground pollutants. Kitsap Conservation District offers free site visits to landowners in unincorporated Kitsap County to discuss options, and they may be able to offer financial assistance. Several conservation districts, especially in the Puget Sound region, also offer low-cost rain barrel workshops. Or, watch a video on how to build a rain barrel from Snohomish Conservation District.

On the farm: Using less and retaining more

Sprinkler irrigation system
Kittitas Conservation District
  • Improving irrigation efficiency builds drought resilience by reducing water use and reducing the amount of sediment and pollutants that flow off fields into nearby waterways. Many conservation districts offer cost-share to help landowners cover the expense of upgrading to more water-efficient irrigation systems, such as center pivot sprinklers. In the last two years Kittitas County Conservation District has assisted over 12 landowners with sprinkler conversion projects.
  • Many conservation districts across the state help landowners implement Irrigation Water Management (IWM). IWM plans help landowners determine the volume, frequency, and application of irrigation water for the most efficient water use. The plans are based on specific site conditions, such as soil type, crop grown, and slope.
  • Direct seed and no-till farming not only improves soil health, it also benefits water conservation. Conventional plow-based tillage buries crop residue (stalks, stubble, and leaves left after a crop is harvested) in the ground. With direct seed and no-till practices, crop residue is retained on the surface. The residue helps increase water infiltration and reduce evaporation. Many conservation districts offer direct seed equipment rental programs. You can learn more about the practice on this fact sheet from Spokane Conservation District.

Learn more

Conservation districts offer a range of voluntary services to help you conserve natural resources on farms, forests, ranch land, water- and river-front properties, and in urban and suburban areas. Find your district today using this Conservation District Map, and visit the Washington State Conservation Commission website for more information.

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