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To support the goals of the Division, the Committee is launching a blog on the TAWWA.org website to highlight existing utilities and programs across the state. This blog will provide valuable information on existing programs and highlight how more information on the programs can be obtained, thus creating an online database of water education resources.

 

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A Tale of Two Seasons: The WaterWise Landscape Tour

Posted By Karen E. Menard, Wednesday, August 2, 2017

 

Education Division – Consumer Outreach Committee Blog

 

All Things H2O                                  August 2017 Issue

 


 

 

 

A Tale of Two Seasons: The WaterWise Landscape Tour

 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Dickens wrote, setting the scene for the ensuing drama in A Tale of Two Cities. Had Dickens visited Texas, he might have agreed that his paradoxical opener applies to summer as well.

The “best” of times: family vacations, pool parties, hot dogs and ice cream. The “worst” of times: inefficient sprinkler use, struggling lake levels and the kind of heat that makes showering before going out completely useless.

Everyone looks forward to summer, but we all seem to forget just how hot it can get. The triple digits return to remind us that our bodies haven’t developed a special tolerance to the heat – just because we are “Native Texans” (or we got here as soon as we could).

Speaking of native, though, some living things actually are tolerant to these “worst” of times conditions, and summer is the climax of their story. Native and adapted plants tend to withstand intense conditions much more heroically than their non-native, annual counterparts who are especially fragile when water is scarce.

Meanwhile, residents dial up the sprinklers to beat the heat. This largely occurs without consideration for weather conditions and forecasts, soil moisture and slope of the yard. As a water educator, I teach irrigation as a holistic practice, and I stress the importance of the many factors at play. The concept of scale is difficult to grasp, especially when I invite residents to visualize the amount of water their sprinklers use. I enjoy watching residents’ expressions shift from shock to understanding when I walk them through a theoretical “average” yard’s sprinkler use: one spray head emits three gallons per minute and so on…all the way through a billing cycle. My colleagues and I use an infographic to aid in that visualization process.

 

And that’s just an “average” yard, assuming that the irrigation system as a whole is operating efficiently. But what about the kinds of plants in the yard and their respective watering needs? Residents’ plant choices can greatly exacerbate these watering habits, resulting in water waste and sky-high summer bills. Despite the extra watering, many plants still succumb to the “worst” of times. They simply aren’t well-suited for survival. Sadly, the cycle of poor plant choices and excessive water use is repeated all too often in our region.

But don’t worry; there’s a happy ending – or at least a hopeful one. It’s an adventure in education, celebrating the resilience of native and adapted plants at the resolution of their story: the fall. Enter the WaterWise Landscape Tour, an event that Live Green in Plano hosts each October and a case study in sustainable behavior change.

The event centers on the question, “How can we help residents reduce their outdoor water use with landscaping options that are beautiful, maintainable and sustainable?” The WaterWise Landscape Tour is a day-long, self-guided tour that provides access to great models in our community. It showcases plants and practices that we encourage residents to try, and it cultivates a friendly, open environment for attendees to ask questions and share experiences.

 

We begin our annual planning process by exploring our city and identifying prospective yards that feature a wide variety of native and adapted plants. We also look for other sustainable practices like minimized turf, unique hardscapes, rainwater harvesting, composting and more. The featured plants and practices must be attractive; design is an important characteristic as well. We curate the prospective yards, choosing carefully so that the final selections feature diverse elements: sun, shade, slope and so on. It’s important that attendees have access to yards with attributes and challenges that they can relate to. Once we’ve identified our top five yards, we approach their owners: the storytellers. One of the most valuable aspects of the tour is the owners’ passion for sharing their stories with attendees: their inspiration, their challenges, their failures and successes. Here are a few examples of previously featured yards.

 

Of course, the yards’ owners aren’t alone during the event. Collin County Master Gardeners and Live Green in Plano volunteers staff the yards as well. These friendly, knowledgeable folks share insight on the featured plants and more. We also let the plants speak for themselves by providing each yard with customized plant labels that include sun and care requirements and commonly associated wildlife. Speaking of wildlife, we often spot visitors in addition to human attendees on tour day: monarch butterflies and a plethora of other pollinators!

 

Experience has shown us that fall is the best time to showcase native and adapted plants. Having survived the “worst” of times, their hardiness serves as proof that beautiful, maintainable and sustainable are all possible without excessive water use. In fact, we review our prospective yards’ historical summer water usage before confirming them as tour-worthy. The final selections maintain attractive, thriving plant material with average – even below average – summer water usage. A happy ending, indeed!

But that’s not all. Sustainable behavior change is the underlying goal of our outreach. Not only do we want to showcase plants and practices, but we aim to send attendees home with the knowledge, resources and inspiration they need to incorporate them into their own yards.

We hosted approximately 150 attendees at the 2016 WaterWise Landscape Tour. Over 90% of those who responded to our post-event survey visited all five homes on the tour, ensuring that they were introduced to a variety of plants and practices. Most importantly, though, attendees reported that they planned to take action. 96% of respondents reported that they would consider drought-tolerant, native or adapted plants when shopping. 53% even reported that they planned to install drip irrigation. We found significant overlap between those who attended the tour and those who registered for our Landscape for Life class series in the weeks that followed, demonstrating that attendees sought further instruction in transforming their yards into water-efficient, thriving models.

We’re hopeful that more residents will follow suit after they experience the 2017 WaterWise Landscape Tour. Planning is underway for our upcoming tour day: Saturday, October 21. The “worst” of times may currently be upon us, but fall will bring football, pumpkin-flavored goodies and cooler temperatures before we know it. Look for the heroes of the story – native and adapted plants – in your community!

Want to join us on tour day? Want to host a tour of your own? I’m happy to help. Please feel free to contact me at katiem@plano.gov. Visit plano.gov/landscapetour for details and downloadable resources.

 

About the Author:

Katie Masucci serves as the Water Education Coordinator for the City of Plano. She loves teaching residents of all ages about water quality, efficiency and conservation. She also enjoys learning about the latest water-saving technologies and writing about environmental topics. Katie plays and coaches ice hockey in her spare time, proving that water – in liquid or solid form – is a huge part of her life! Aside from water, she is a huge music and arts fan, and she enjoys learning about home décor and landscape design.

Tags:  city of plano  Katie Masucci  landscape tour  waterwise 

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