Since August has passed with no measurable precipitation, water conservation is back in the forefront.
Utah is always dry, but the increasing needs for water is prompting many to take a harder look at how they use water.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has asked members of Utah's Water Conservation Team, of which Weber Basin Water Conservancy District is a member, to reduce per capita water use in Utah. The goal is a 25 percent decrease by the year 2050.
WBWCD is a wholesale and retail supplier of culinary and irrigation water for more than 50 cities in Davis, Weber, Summit, Morgan and Box Elder counties. The amount of water it supplies is staggering! Running through their system is some 350 cubic feet per second or 250 million gallons per day.
I recently visited the district's Water Conservation Learning Garden in Layton to see how it's educating northern Utah water users. Tage Flint, the general manager, showed me the gardens and shared the philosophy behind them.
Flint, originally from Davis County, most recently worked at the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District. While there, he gained an appreciation for the value of teaching people to conserve water through practical demonstrations.
"We are trying to demonstrate with commercial and residential landscapes that we are much more water efficient but still family friendly. We want to dispel the idea that we have to plant cactus and spread cinders to conserve water," he said.
"We are different from Tucson, Arizona. We are not the low desert but have a higher mountain climate. We want people to see the kinds of plants they can grow here and how they do not have to sacrifice beauty to conserve water."
The mission of the garden is to "provide an opportunity for community members to learn firsthand about the beautiful types of waterwise landscapes in a semi-arid climate. It is intended for visitors to learn not only about plant material that is water wise, but to learn how to care for and irrigate plants in different soil types and slope conditions. This garden creates a setting for outdoor classrooms and scenic nature walks."
It is also a working operation. The landscape surrounds the district's headquarters and water-treatment plant. One area is planted over a million gallon water tank, and Flint said it is designed to use almost no water because they don't want to keep the soil over the tank wet. The vents on the top of the tank have been converted to benches to make it more attractive to visitors.
Flint said this particular garden is unique because of the miniature landscapes and backyards.
The designers made frameworks that resemble the shape of a home. Around these they planted two examples of water-conserving front landscapes. In those are colorful trees and other plants that add variety to your yard.
The backyard designs also utilize the silhouetted frameworks. These feature functional, beautiful designs for entertainment and recreation but also focus on reduced water and landscape maintenance needs.
Another feature that Flint pointed out is the turf plots. "These demonstration plots show six different types of turf. There is ryegrass, fescue and bluegrass that show we can have green lawns with turf that has a much deeper root system. This is not your grandma's tall fescue lawn with the big coarse grass blades. This fescue has much thinner blades and is soft to the feel."
Visitors can take off their shoes and walk on the various kinds of grass; they can look at the color and the texture; and they can inspect educational displays to find out which grass is best suited to their landscape.
Irrigation design is a vital part of conserving water, and one interesting display is the irrigation demonstration. Because it is a concrete pad, it doesn't look much like a landscape, but it allows visitors to turn on the water and watch different systems in action.
Depending on which buttons are pushed, visitors can see how different sprinkler heads cover the landscape and how important proper head spacing and head to head coverage are in increasing irrigation efficiency.
What: Weber Basin's Water Conservation Garden
Where: 2837 E. Highway 193, Layton
When: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily
How much: free
Larry A. Sagers is a horticulture specialist at the Utah State University Extension at Thanksgiving Point.