Conservation Matters June 2012

The Texas Land, Water and Wildlife Connection

TWRI grant recipient compares water efficiency of various landscapes

By Alejandra Arreola-Triana

In the first year of a 5-year study, Sam Houston State University graduate student Rebecca Hammond found landscapes containing a greater proportion of woody plants use more water, while mostly turf landscapes used less. She also found turf will leach more water underground and can help recharge aquifers.

A native of Coldspring, Texas, Hammond received a 2011-2012 Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) research grant. With the $5,000 research grant Hammond is working with her advising professor Dr. Tim Pannkuk to determine the amount of water used by different combinations of landscape plants.

According to Hammond, approximately 30 percent of the potable water available in Texas is used to irrigate landscapes. What she finds unacceptable is that water used in irrigation is lost as it runs down sidewalks and streets. "One can only hope that the potable water that is now runoff finds soil and is absorbed," she said.

Knowing which landscape combinations need less water or leech more water underground is important given the severe drought the state has experienced.

"Most people take it for granted that you can walk up to a faucet in your house and turn it on, knowing that water will come out," Hammond said. "That will not be the case in the future if water is continuously pumped out from its source without being replenished."

Hammond said the city of Huntsville, Texas, will use the results she has gathered so far to create a water ordinance and general guidelines for irrigation.

"I hope a light is shined on the misuse of our potable water," she said. Hammond said water districts can use the results of her investigation to create and maintain a water conservation program.

She said she hopes that environmentally conscious landowners will use her results to make better decisions about landscaping and water use.

Hammond suggested that people who want to install a landscape should research the plants conditioned for their area and talk with a landscape designer. "What works in North Texas will not work for southern Texas landscapes," she said.

Her research is funded by TWRI through funds obtained from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as part of the National Institutes for Water Research annual research program. TWRI is the designated institute for water resources research in Texas.

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