The individual health benefits and societal advantages of efficiently irrigated landscapes are currently receiving renewed appreciation. In the past, their value was largely taken for granted or overlooked. However, as the number and size of population centers have increased, the monetary costs to society from reduced access to greenery in open spaces have proven to be highly significant.

Outside of natural areas, urban landscape resources are managed and maintained by the corresponding property owners, either directly or indirectly. Widespread awareness and understanding of appropriate outdoor water conservation practices are steadily increasing but still lagging behind. Landscape irrigation equipment has advanced rapidly in its potential to achieve meaningful water conservation. However, the importance of proper management of landscape watering is becoming increasingly clear. Good management can often achieve desired landscape water conservation, even with basic irrigation equipment that is simple to use and low in cost. However, poor management can nullify the water conservation potential of an advanced watering system that was well-designed, utilized high-quality components, was properly installed and is appropriately maintained. Good management is essential to water conservation.

Drip tubing with inline emitters

Preparation for drought could include incorporation of landscape zones that may have watering completely shut off during drought. These sacrificial zones would be comprised of plants that have a drought dormancy mechanism for self-preservation or that could be readily replaced, such as annual flower beds.

Close-up of multistream multitrajectory rotating sprinkler

Landscape water conservation can be realized when property owners and landscape water managers elevate their knowledge and understanding of key landscape management practices. It is not necessary for everyone to become proficient in every aspect of landscape management or in the first-hand application of the appropriate technologies. However, having a basic understanding of landscape water conservation is an important key. Smart irrigation technologies can simplify day-to-day management burdens. Watering schedules can be automatically adjusted for local weather conditions and still meet landscape needs. An appropriate and stable regulatory framework established by local governments will help guide landscape design and water management toward further progress in water conservation and continued realization of associated landscape benefits.

Pre-drought reductions in landscape watering through conservation may reduce revenue streams for water providers, including funds that are much needed for maintenance and upgrade of the water supply infrastructure. Further rate increases would likely be implemented, even though per capita water use was reduced.

Although the present is the best time to prepare for drought through increased conservation, it should be recognized that landscape watering needs will not magically reduce an additional amount (such as 20 – 30 percent) during periods of low precipitation. Watering needs for high-value landscapes (established trees and woody shrubs) will actually increase because less precipitation is available to help meet plant needs. Once full landscape water conservation is implemented, further watering reductions could result in significant plant mortality, including urban forests. The prized benefits of green spaces in population centers would then be greatly reduced. Their post-drought recovery would come at great cost.


Continued and expanded water conservation practices in both agriculture and urban landscapes are vital for the preservation and protection of water supplies. Freshwater supplies are limited, and the needs and demands for its use are steadily increasing. Past droughts have helped drive development of new irrigation technologies and improved equipment. Significant progress in water conservation has already been made, but more will be required. Our collective understanding and priorities will largely determine the success of our planning and preparing for times of drought — for it will surely come.

Mark Crookston, PE, D.WRE, CAIS, CIC, CID, CIT,

CLIA, is the irrigation management department manager for Northern Water in Berthoud,

Colorado. He has earned his Master of Science in engineering from Utah State University

and is also a licensed professional engineer in Colorado. Crookston has recently become an Irrigation Association instructor. 27

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