Land & Environment

Watering the Landscape with Less at USU

Video by Taylor Emerson, Digital Journalist, University Marketing and Communications.

On an average summer day, the Utah State University Landscape Operations and Maintenance (LOAM) receives many calls about watering practices on campus. And now, in 2021, a year where the Utah Governor Spencer Cox announced a state of emergency in March due to drought, LOAM Manager Shane Richards wants the community to know that USU is actively conserving water.

“We have to get along with Mother Nature, and she rules,” Richards said. “So, we just follow her lead. This year we’re planning on drought conditions, and that water conservation is big.”

The university’s Logan campus has been working hard to add water-efficient landscapes, with the area north of the Living Learning Community student housing complex being the most recent addition. Other low-water landscapes include those surrounding the university’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings, such as the Sorenson Legacy Foundation Center for Clinical Excellence and Life Sciences Building. These buildings reduce outdoor water use by 50-90% as compared with a typical landscape. LOAM also plans to install more gardens fed by rainwater over the next five years.

In addition to the introduction of more low-water landscapes, the university has worked on water efficiency. LOAM uses a computerized weather tracking system on approximately 95% of the Logan campus. This system adjusts watering to local rainfall and keeps plants healthy while maximizing efficiency.

In response to greater pressure on Utah’s water, LOAM has continued efficiency efforts with the development of a phased drought plan for campus. It prescribes increasingly stringent conservation measures aligned with USDA drought intensity levels. According to Richards, the university is planning to operate much of summer in the third of the five phases. Phase three entails reducing water use by 25-50% by applying a wetting agent to soil to make water go further, mowing at a higher height to reduce stress on turf and allowing for localized dry spots on outlying areas. If the drought increases in intensity, phase four outlines measures for reducing water by 50-70%.

The amount of water used on landscape only accounts for some of the questions LOAM receives. Richards says many people are concerned about timing of watering. Most of campus receives water during the day from the canal. Although guidance for watering often suggests times when evaporation rates are lowest, USU is required to water according to schedules established by the Canal Company. According to that schedule, the majority water in the evening hours goes to agricultural users, while, during the day, the majority goes to non-agricultural users such as the university.

USU continues to work on reducing water use. Campus users may notice things that the LOAM Shop does not. Individuals who see malfunctioning systems may contact the university’s Facilities Customer Service line at 435.797.1947 or facilitiescustserv@usu.edu.

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