So what does this mean for those of us in the irrigation industry? Well, it means that more pressure is on the industry to adopt new, more conservative irrigation strategies and technology. These measures will require investment, education and training.
While regional water authorities are paying homeowners to eliminate irrigated landscapes altogether, water features offer irrigation contractors a highly desirable, easily installed, high-margin option to expand their portfolios.
Ponds are not the answer, for a number of reasons. They are the type of water feature most susceptible to evaporation losses, because of their large open water surface exposed to wind and sun. Even though they may use less water than flood or overhead irrigation, they are the hardest water feature to sell to the drought-conscious.
In addition, ponds aren’t as popular as they once were, even in well-watered areas. They are the hardest feature to install, require the most training before and the most maintenance after installation, and they cost more than other features, all else being equal.
Sales data polled informally from a number of water-feature equipment manufacturers show a shift in the type of water feature most commonly installed today versus ten or twenty years ago. The large natural-looking ponds that were the rage in backyards during the ’90s and early 2000s are being supplanted by more intimate and accessible wall fountains, overflowing vases and bubbling boulders in outdoor living spaces. These features require much less maintenance and use far less electricity and water than ponds.
Best of all for irrigators looking to ‘test the waters,’ the simplest of these features are those set in self-contained basins. They require very little training, no new tools or technology to install and little to no care after the sale. Small wonder the popularity of these hardscape features has exploded over the last five years!
As crews get more familiar with these new products, they can advance to pond-free features, stone waterfalls and streams for those customers who prefer the natural look but don’t want the upkeep and liability of a pond.
Water stored and recirculated from an underground reservoir is protected from evaporation; the closed basin is liability-free, safe for children and animals and impervious to algae and debris issues.
In addition, pond-free features can be turned on and off at will. Some skill with rockwork will be needed, but the equipment is easy to install, available in matched kits that eliminate guesswork and are almost foolproof.
However, we have some work to do. Water features are under attack, for all the wrong reasons. I hope by now it’s obvious that the water consumption of even the least conservative of water features, under the worst possible conditions in the country, is relatively inconsequential.
I also hope you’ll begin offering water features in your expanded portfolio, if you aren’t already (right next to LED lighting—but that’s another story). The next time you hear of legislation seeking to ban ‘wasteful water features,’ write your local legislator and tell him it’s a drop in the bucket.