Originally created 06/19/02

Outdoor watering limit can cut costs



To say Donna Ware is an avid gardener is a bit of an oversimplification. She enjoys digging around the yard on weekends, surely, but with a doctorate in ecology her expertise extends beyond the suburban flower bed.

In fact, her own garden is practically a study on water conservation, a significant money saver for homeowners during the hot summer months.

For example, when Ms. Ware, an ecologist at Augusta State University, plants a shrub, she stands an old cardboard gift wrap tube on its end in the hole. She fills the tube with pea gravel and fills the hole with soil. Then she waters the plant directly through the tube. There is no evaporation loss, and the water goes straight to the root system.

Lawn and garden care is the No. 1 area in which homeowners can lower their summer water bill, said Augusta Utilities Department Director Max Hicks. Homeowners can stretch their water dollar by using mulch and planting native vegetation, Ms. Ware said.

"Mulch prevents unwanted weeds from popping up and reduces evaporation loss at the soil surface," she said. "Native vegetation needs less water than more exotic plants and even grass, so you can save a bundle there."

Richmond County has been in Phase 1 of a water conservation plan since May 2000: Even-numbered addresses can water Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; odd addresses can water Wednesday, Friday and Sunday; no watering is allowed Mondays. Columbia County's restrictions follow the same schedule.

The utilities department wants to crack down more on illegal watering, which happens frequently, Mr. Hicks said. Violators can be taken to court and fined, but Mr. Hicks said a proposal is in place that allows the department to turn off the lawbreaker's water and collect a fee to return service.

With the threat of fines looming, it's even more important to get as much as possible out of the water used, said Sid Mullis, the director of the Augusta-Richmond County Extension Service.

He suggested pruning plants a limb at a time, as opposed to shearing, which increases their need for water. Using slow-release fertilizer also cuts water needs, and watering at sunup - the coolest part of the day - will reduce evaporation loss.

"It adds up over time," Mr. Mullis said. "The savings on your bill would be noticeable."

COST-SAVING TIPS

  • Eliminate evaporation loss by using drip hoses instead of sprinkler systems.
  • If you have an automatic watering system, periodically observe it to make sure everything is adjusted and working properly.
  • A rainfall sensor can stop an automatic sprinkler during rainy days.
  • Put a quarter-inch thick layer of newspaper under your mulch to further trap moisture.
  • Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3352 or john.banks@augustachronicle.com.