Water, Water Everywhere

by Cris Blackstone, NHCLP
October-November 2019

Using the Earth’s water resources is a focus around the world. We have seen the photos of different groups of people, walking several miles each direction daily, to bring fresh, clean water home. Photojournalists have covered stories of pallets and pallets full of water bottles being distributed after disasters in many communities, often weather related, across our country. From the many ways we learn about the water cycle in elementary school, to the expertise in municipal water departments, water is a common topic now more than ever before.

Clean, unpolluted water in private wells, and clean water filtering through our watersheds, is no longer “a given.” Landscapers are among the front line professionals seeing how water can help plants flourish, or how misuse can cause ideal conditions for plants to host diseases and become undesirable on a property. Through professional development and sheer interest and concern, landscapers, plant growers, and designers can all help community stakeholders learn more about the importance of viewing water as a resource to be guarded closely.

California may be at the leading edge of water being regulated and intensely monitored. Last year, the average per person use of water there was 85 gallons per day. With new statewide conservation laws in place, indoor water use is going to be regulated at 55 gallons per person per day, in six months. There’s a goal of 52.5 gallons by 2025, and 50 gallons by 2030. There are also pending requirements for irrigation systems being certified by landscape architects, with the exact details being worked out.

Cynthia Bee, the Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Jordan Valley Water Conservation District, outside Salt Lake City, UT, was a tour coordinator for the Garden Communicators 2019 Conference, which was held September 4-7. One of her goals was showcasing gardens, both public and private, that were at the helm of the water conservancy programs and moreover, mindset, of gardeners and landscapers in Utah. While there are still vast numbers of properties sporting expansive monoculture lawn areas requiring intensive watering, there is a strong movement going on to help educate homeowners and municipalities to plan lawn areas more effectively. The Garden Communicators had many lively and engaging conversations about the use of irrigation and water consumption, from their viewpoints coming from many states, as well as Canada and Australia. I was happy to know that New Hampshire is in the forefront of understanding water use, minimizing monoculture lawn areas, being mindful of how playgrounds in parks and at schools are designed, and encouraging plants that are more drought-tolerant to be used.

UNH Cooperative Extension is working with representatives of many like-minded professional groups from our government (DES) and groups such as Soak Up the Rain, among others, to create new programming which will be introduced in 2020. Recent meetings with representatives, including Master Gardeners, Natural Resources Stewards, and several departments from UNH Cooperative Extension, reviewed materials presented in the past, from the Landscaping at the Water’s Edge book and program. Over the coming months, this curriculum will be updated and made available to garden groups, civic groups, and professional organizations. With volunteers presenting to their peers through garden groups and library presentations, and professionals presenting to landscapers and plant growers, all proprty owners should be educated and invigorated to be a part of this conscientious movement. Topics will include proper irrigation, best plants to be used to create the most natural landscape possible, and considerations for habitat from the ground level to higher up in shrubs and trees. The landscapes chosen for the water’s edge, have tremendous effect on the quality of water in streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, and ultimately the ocean.

Water problems considered are not only the need to ensure fresh, clean, potable, and pollution-free water for human use and recreation, but for all things in the natural world. When we have increasing storm negative effects, flooding and subsequent pollution occur. That damage is not only costly, but is damaging to the habitat and can be impossible to repair. Across the US, we see many ways to mitigate damaging storm water. From ways steps are built as simple frames, filled with gravel, to slow down the water travel from a hillside to the water’s edge, to ways storm water is diverted from gutters to catch basins, slowing down the damaging speeds water can travel during and after a storm, are becoming commonplace.

Our drinking water depends on everyone doing their fair share, maybe even more than that – to ensure all water, drop by drop, is considered valuable. The tours in Utah showed ways the western states are grappling with long periods of drought, and ways they embrace new styles of plants and gardens to reflect sensible water use. While slow to catch on, it’s a positive approach, brought on by people like Cynthia Bee, in roles such as Outreach and Education for the Jordan Water Conservation District.

In New Hampshire we have many watershed groups, from the NH Lakes Associations to town Conservation Commissions and our County Planning Commissions, to thank for being aware and actively promoting efforts to conserve water and use it wisely. Landscapers have a strong, visible role to play in this important movement, helping to work with homeowners to appreciate responsible designs, that will offer year ’round interest and be beneficial to all the wildlife that type of property can attract and support. Learn and share with your local garden centers and wholesale suppliers, to ensure your clients are learning what they can about wise water use.