The City of Houston Public Works Department launched a campaign in November aimed at helping residents conserve the city’s water supply by reducing usage of home sprinkler systems during the winter.
HPW’s “Water Sprinkler Shutoff Initiative” urges residents to turn off their automatic sprinkler systems through February.
According to their calculations, if about one-third of Houston’s highest water users turn off their sprinkler systems during this time, Houston could save 90 million gallons of water.
That is equal to 2.25 million 40-gallon bathtubs, or one bathtub for each Houston resident.
Paula Paciorek, water programs and education manager for Houston Water, Houston Public Works, said grass naturally goes dormant during winter.
As a result, lawns do not need regular watering during this time, and natural rainfall typically provides more than enough water for lawns.
“If it has not rained for a very long time, monthly manual watering should suffice,” she said.
Houston Water estimates that the average Houston household uses 18 gallons of water per person daily for outdoor watering, which calculates to 9 gallons of water wasted every day through inefficient irrigation and similar practices.
“By turning off your sprinkler systems during the winter and ensuring they are installed properly in the spring, you can save tons of water and money all year, all while promoting a healthy lawn,” Robinson said.
“To ensure that (Houston) can continue to provide treated water to this rapidly growing region, we must conserve water today. Reducing our water consumption today will also help keep your water rates lower in the future.
Decreasing water demand today ensures that we will have a thriving future while maintaining affordable water rates,” she said.
Paciorek said residential water usage for single- and multi-family residences was 59 gallons per day per person 2019, which is the equivalent to 413 gallons per week and 1,700 gallons of water per month.
“Houston’s current water use shows that, although residential water use is close to being highly efficient, there is always room for improvement,” she said.
The average U.S. citizen uses 88 gallons of water a day. In 2019, Houston’s five-year residential water consumption average was 62 gallons per person per day.
Houston’s 2019 Water Conservation Plan outlines a five-year reduction to 61 gallons per person per day and a 10-year goal of 60 gallons per person per day (based on five-year averages).
Paciorek said residential water use for outdoors is about 30%, with most of it being used for watering lawns. She also said the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 50% of water used outdoors is wasted due to “inefficient watering practices.”
The main reason residents might continue to water throughout the winter, she said, is because of lack of knowledge in managing the irrigation control systems, which are not always easy to understand.
“Residents are often unaware of how to change the control system settings. The good news is that during winter, it is much easier.
Residents can just turn off the irrigation control and then turn it back on during spring without having to deal with the control programming features,” Paciorek said.
“A healthy lawn needs less water. Healthy grass has deep roots, meaning it can access water deeper in the soil and therefore needs to be watered less frequently. This saves you money and water.”
Sarah Gossett Robinson, program development lead for Houston Water, said the campaign employs several strategies, including sending out postcards to all of Houston’s highest residential water users, posting information in community publications in areas with high monthly household water use, posting on social media platforms, and sharing information with local community groups and garden and lawn stores to further share this information.
“We hope to use this feedback to gauge success and inform future messaging. We are also working to determine where our highest water users are generally located. We have targeted these areas specifically with this campaign message, as most highwater use in the residential sector is related to outdoor water uses,” she said.
Robinson said they are also asking residents to complete a survey informing them if they’ve turned off their water sprinkler systems, or if they’re hesitant to do so. The first 75 respondents will receive a free water conservation kit in the mail.
Robinson said they plan to follow up at the end of the campaign to track potential changes in water usage in these areas.
Visit www.waterconservation.houstonpublicworks.org for more information.