Energy Adviser: Conserve water even with a wet spring

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I save electricity, but have a tough time understanding why we need to conserve water when we just had such a wet spring?

Spring rains don’t necessarily mean we’ll have an abundance of water to waste during dry summer months.

“Rainwater is disconnected from our water supply. Our water comes from underground aquifers hundreds of feet below the surface,” said Doug Quinn, Clark Public Utilities’ director of water services. “Much of the water we use last saw the surface as a snowflake in the Cascade Mountains or soaked into the soil years ago.”

“We have a strong community outreach program to inform the public of the need for using water wisely,” he added. “Water is a resource like electricity. As stewards, conservation is part of that philosophy.”

During winter, the demand on Clark Public Utilities’ water system is less than 10 million gallons per day, but soars to 30 million gallons per day on peak days, usually in August.

“Outside irrigation is by far the single largest element of summer demand,” Quinn said.

To use less water, he recommends applying an inch of water per week on lawns and watering in late evening or before dawn to minimize evaporation.

“Avoid sprinklers that put lots of water into the atmosphere and use soaker hoses for landscapes,” said Linda Chalker-Scott, associate professor and Extension Urban Horticulturist at Washington State University’s Puyallup research and extension center. “Soaker hoses buried under mulch are even better.”

You also can minimize water use with your choice of landscaping. Chalker-Scott recommends mulching soils with an organic material such as arborist wood chips. “Mulch helps the soil retain water; it shades plant roots and inhibits weed growth, which take water from plants.”

She also recommends drought-tolerant trees and shrubs, but said to wait until fall to transplant them. Then rainwater and cooler temperatures will help reduce the amount of watering needed.

Here are other ways to save water outdoors:

• Reduce the size of your lawn. Grass requires up to four times as much water as other plants.

• Aerate packed lawns to maximize the effectiveness of watering.

• Set a timer to remember to turn off sprinklers. Use timers on irrigation systems, too.

• Make sure sprinklers are watering the lawn and not the sidewalk or street.

• Use a drip irrigation system on gardens and flowerbeds.

• Don’t run the hose continuously when washing the car.

• Repair any leaking outdoor faucets and hoses.

“The utility plans years ahead to meet peak demand. The more efficiently we use existing resources, the longer we delay having to invest in new resources,” Quinn said. “That helps keep everyone’s costs down and also protects a valuable resource.”

The Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities energy counselors, who provide conservation and energy use information to utility customers. Send questions to energyadviser@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, in care of Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA. 98668. A panel of local energy efficiency and energy product experts will review your questions. Past topics are available at http://www.clarkpublicutilities.com.