It’s not often that you’ll see an article about the green industry that begins with Shakespeare, but the Bard has a lot to offer, even 400 years after these words were first published:

“Full fathom five thy father lies / Of his bones are coral made / Those are pearls that were his eyes / Nothing of him that doth fade / But doth suffer a sea-change / Into something rich and strange.”

In “The Tempest,” Ariel remarks on the wondrous transformation that a tragic event has brought to pass. In fading away five fathoms beneath the waves, a ‘seachange’ has turned a lifeless body into riches, eyes of pearls, bones of precious coral.

So powerful is this image of rebirth, of what passes away morphing into something surprisingly valuable, that though Shakespeare’s bones are dust and ashes, his words still ring out, present, rich and strange. Even today, we speak of a deeply transformative event as a sea-change.

So what does this have to do with irrigation, landscaping or water features? Well, I’m starting to think that our green industry is undergoing exactly the sort of sea-change that Will so eloquently described.

Take the drought that is now entering its fourth year in California. Few would argue that the situation hasn’t had tragic consequences; that plummeting reservoir levels, vanishing rivers and burgeoning water restrictions aren’t disastrous news for the entire state.

The impact on the green industry has been been especially dire. Watering bans have stifled new plantings and turf installations, limited the filling of water features and pools, and slowed or stopped irrigation altogether in some areas. But contractors are finding silver linings to the barren clouds, in the form of new business arising directly from the drought itself.

Micro irrigation and xeriscaping

Obviously, when water gets scarce and irrigation starts to be restricted, folks begin to change their plantings and systems. Exchanging thirsty, non-native plants and turfgrasses for native species adapted to local conditions can lower water requirements drastically.

Changing out overhead sprinklers for newer, state-ofthe-art drip and micro irrigation systems similarly increases watering efficiencies, to the point where municipalities all over the West are actually subsidizing such efforts.

Both strategies offer contractors strong sources of revenue at the first signs of drought. Of course, as more and more customers complete the changeovers, there’s less low-hanging fruit for irrigation and landscape contractors (and the dealers and distributors who supply them).

Rain harvesting

It might come as a surprise that much attention has turned to harvesting the little rain that does fall in times of drought, but that’s precisely what Mark Lawson’s customers are telling him they want to do in the San Diego area.

Lawson, whose Koi Depot of San Diego is a full-service company, with 25 years of experience in water features of all kinds, is getting a steady stream of questions about collecting rainwater. Many of the questions are coming from his long-time pond customers, the dedicated ‘koi kichi’, who are looking to compensate for the water that they change out every week to keep their fish ponds crystal clear and their prized Japanese carp healthy. At 5 to 10 percent a week, these water changes can add up fast.

“The drought has started to change habits, even lifestyles,” in Lawson’s neck of the woods. “Folks are more aware, more conscious of their water use. They’re not just tossing pondwater down the French drains; they’re using it on their trees and lawns.”

Some koi pond owners have adjusted by making fewer water changes; others have started thinking about filtering and re-using the water, but many think that rain collection might be just the thing for them. Lawson, a member of ARCSA (American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association), is also getting new business from homeowners and municipalities looking to keep their landscapes in good shape.

“Quite a few, just last week, were looking for rain barrels, but there’s a district not far from here replacing autofills hooked to city water with thousand-gallon rain tanks, to keep public fountains filled.” One of Lawson’s customers is even putting in a pond—not for fish, but as a retention pond specifically to catch and store rainwater for his gardens.

The concept of using rainwater to keep water features filled isn’t new, but the drought has revived interest and sparked new opportunities for business owners like Lawson all over the country.

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