Christopher Brey, Gilead’s Director of Facilities and Operations is forecasting a savings of 300,000 to 500,000 gallons annually; at least 30 percent of its landscape water use. This is for a small 10,000 square foot lawn. Other benefits with an upgrade include elimination of lawn maintenance, which is usually the largest part of the landscaping budget. Emissions from lawn mowing, trimming and leaf blowing can be stopped. The contaminated run-off from fertilizer and herbicides used on lawns are also halted.
In addition to the obvious water savings, conservation reduces overall energy use. A little known fact reported by the California Energy Commission; water acquisition, storage, treatment and delivery is the single largest user of electricity (19%) and natural gas (30%). Other areas have less need to transport water great distances, but still use significant energy for pumping and treating water. Throughout the country, water demand is expected to grow while water sources are becoming less reliable. This combination will likely create increased costs to support more energy intensive water transport and production such as reclamation and desalination.
Making the transition easier to low-water landscaping, Santa Clara Valley Water District and Palo Alto City offered incentives to Gilead, other businesses and residents. Many utilities and municipalities throughout the country are providing rebates for more efficient landscaping. This strategic approach by utilities is applauded. Utilities are finding that encouraging water conservation is the cheapest method to fulfill the ever increasing demand.
The opportunities for conservation are enormous. In California, commercial and public landscaping consumes one-third of California’s water and more efficient landscaping including better irrigation equipment and practices can reduce water use up to 50 percent. Research by Dr. Cristina Milesi, a research scientist for NASA, while at the University of Montana used satellite data to estimate that residential and commercial lawns cover almost 50,000 square miles or the equivalent land area of Mississippi. This is three times the amount of land dedicated to growing corn. Even in wetter areas of the country, rainfall satisfies only half of the typical lawns water needs; while in the dry West, there is negligible summer rainfall. This translates to 20,000 gallons where summer rain to 40,000 gallons in dry areas for each 1,000 sq. ft. of turf. Corn, in comparison, requires 8,000 gallons in wetter areas to 16,000 gallons in dry areas per 1,000 square feet and nearly 3 bushels of corn may be harvested!
Lawn is an unnecessary extravagance considering its cost and environmental impact. Besides turf is quite boring while the alternatives are easy and low cost with a low-water landscape style to fit every taste. No or low irrigation plants can also provide the cooling benefits and erosion prevention typically associated with turf. Examples such as Gilead will hopefully inspire all of us who are stuck on the dead-end turf path to find a green alternative that works with Mother Nature. It’s a project that both the Chief Financial Officer and the butterflies can appreciate.