Residents requested to reduce water use |

Residents requested to reduce water use

Jeff Munson, Tribune city editor

Conserving water while maintaining a green lawn green is a delicate balance Tahoe Keys homeowner Ernie Jones says he follows faithfully.

Sporting a “low application” sprinkler system and armed with a garden hose for those hard to reach places, Jones not only keeps his lawn lively, but local water utilities faced with shortages, happy.

“When I water, I do it responsibly,” Jones said. “A little here, a little there, every other day or so and use the hose for brown spots.”

South Tahoe Public Utility District wants more water users to follow Jones’ example. That’s why it’s asking customers to voluntarily restrict their lawn watering to every other day.

Facing record temperatures and a propensity for homeowners to justify longer soaks because of the hot weather, district spokesman Dennis Cocking says water demands are increasing and the supply is running low.

“We’re asking for customers to be responsible, to not water during the day, to water every other day and not to water during peak hours,” Cocking said.

The basin isn’t experiencing a weather-related drought, but 12 of its 34 wells are not in operation because of MTBE contamination. With less water being pumped and more water used for irrigating lawns, supplies are running low, he said.

“A lot of people think the water restrictions are because of tourism. But the fact of the matter is water demand doubles, triples and quadruples exclusively by landscape irrigation,” Cocking said.

By watering every other day, or even every third day, lawns can remain green as long as they are weaned properly.

To wean a lawn, customers shouldn’t automatically adopt an every-other-day routine cold turkey.

Instead, Cocking suggests watering for a shorter period daily for the first few days, before going to an every-other-day or every-third-day cycle.

“If you make the change abruptly, your lawn will turn brown,” he said. “But if you do it over time and stretch it out gradually, you are encouraging your lawn to develop a more extensive root system.”

Also, homeowners have a tendency to overwater their lawn. What most don’t know is that lawns in the basin have a threshold because soils here are porous.

“What happens is that people will water too long and the water saturates and carries fertilizers into the streets that ultimately run straight to the lake,” Cocking said. “To avoid this, it’s important to not overwater.”

A good watering means a half-inch application. One way to measure is to take an empty tuna can, put a mark inside it for 1/2-inch and set it on the lawn as you water. Watch it and keep track of the time, letting your sprinklers fill the can.

For however many minutes it takes to fill the can, that is the amount of time it takes to water the lawn, Cocking said.

Watering should be done early in the morning, before the 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. peak period, Cocking said. Late at night is also good, he said.

“Three o’clock in the morning is about the best time,” he said. “And, no matter how much you water asphalt, it won’t grow.”

Lawn watering gauges and free packets of wildflower seeds are available at the district office, 1275 Meadow Crest Drive, in South Lake Tahoe.

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