Smart Water Usage: Methods Abound for Prudent Management

Smart Water Usage: Methods Abound for Prudent Management

By Stefanie Knowlton
Statesman Journal (pdf)
August 22, 2008

Landscapes account for about half of all the residential water use in Oregon during the summer. Save money and water with landscape planning that features a focus on water conservation.

Gadgets and Gauges

Even if you don’t have an irrigation system, you can get water timers that hook up directly to the hose bib or faucet. They can be programmed to turn the water on and off at certain times, so the sprinklers don’t flood the lawn.

Water gauges collect water from the sprinklers, so residents can figure out how long they need to run the sprinklers to get the desired depth. Every sprinkler’s output varies depending on size and coverage. The gauge typically displays measurements along the sides in inches.

Rain gauges measure rain water. Manual gauges look like free-standing test tubes with bases or spikes at the end. Electronic rain gauges measure the rain outside and send the information to a display panel inside, so you don’t have to get wet checking the tube. Many measure temperature and track rain over time.

Sprinkler Systems

If you do have an underground irrigation system, it likely has a controller, whose basic function is to tell the sprinkler system when to turn on or off.

It also allows homeowners to program the sprinkler to run at the most efficient time of day, which is early morning.

A few systems offer additional water-saving features. Some come with a program that figures out water needs based on historical weather data by zip code. There’s an override if the weather is wetter or drier than normal.

Another controller feature is the automatic seasonal adjustment, which switches the sprinkler’s output based on water need.

Some of the most sophisticated controllers include moisture sensors for the yard that helps it determine when water is needed.

Sprinkler gadgets

A handful of gadgets help improve a sprinkler system’s water use.

Rain gauges sense when it’s raining and stop the sprinklers from activating as usual. Some stop the sprinkler from turning back on until the lawn or garden is dry.

Another water-saving device is a wind gauge. The gauge shuts down the system if the wind reaches a certain speed. This prevents heavy wind from blowing the spray of water into the street or driveway instead of the lawn.


This also might be called drought-tolerant or water-wise gardening.

Planning is key. To create a xeriscaped garden, plot out your current landscape and add any new elements to it. Group plants together with similar water needs and plan the irrigation.

To decrease the lawn area, consider additional sitting areas, groundcovers and paths instead.

Also avoid lawns on slopes where water runs off or in beds with sharp angles or narrow strips, which are difficult to water and mow.

Choose drought-tolerant plants when adding to your garden.

Trees and shrubs often require the least water followed by perennials and then annuals. Bulbs such as daffodils, tulips and crocus require little if any supplemental water.

Sometimes, native plants are good water-wise plants because they’re accustomed to Oregon’s dry summers.

Water wisely

Know when, how and how much to water your landscape.

The morning is the best time to water because it’s cooler and there’s less wind for evaporation.

Give plants a good soak about once a week or less as needed. Watering deeper and less often encourages deep roots.

Grass needs about an inch of water a week from May through October.

Drip irrigation is one of the most efficient ways to water. A series of hoses and tiny nozzles deliver water slowly to a plant’s roots. Not only does it save time, but it also reduces evaporation and run-off.

Mulching is another important water maximizer. Add a layer of mulch, such as compost or bark chips, to your garden beds.

Use 1 to 2 inches of compost, leaves or sawdust or 2 to 4 inches of coarse material, such as bark or wood chips.



“Dry-land Gardening: A Xeriscaping Guide for Dry-Summer, Cold-Winter Climates” by Jennifer Bennett

“Xeriscape Handbook: A How-to Guide to Natural, Resource-wise Gardening” by Gayle Weinsein

EC 1546 Water-Efficient Landscape Plants: Available through Marion and Polk County OSU Extension Service offices for $5.50

EC 1530-E, Conserving Water in the Garden: “Designing and Installing a New Landscape” (Available online at, click on Publications and Multimedia Catalog, then Gardening and then Techniques

MSC 1 Water-efficient Plants for the Willamette Valley, includes color photos and plant descriptions and overview of xeriscaping, available through Marion and Polk County Extension Service offices for $5

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