Strict Irrigation Mandates Encourage School Athletic Field Managers to Use Water Differently

New water restrictions are spurring Fairfield and Westchester Counties independent school facility managers to take a closer look at sports turf health as Connecticut and New York enter year three of drought concerns and declines in historic reservoir levels.

“Basically, we want to educate people to use only as much water as necessary to achieve healthy, natural turf playing fields,” said Bruce Moore, Jr., ELM’s vice president of operations and second-generation horticulturist who has taken the lead in ELM’s conservation advocacy efforts. “Our customers will be asked to cut watering by half. As a result, we’re taking a look at every aspect of how school sports fields are used, how to keep surface ball bounce and player footing, and how our landscape team can keep turf hydrated and healthy for all forms of student activity, including band practice, summer camps and student athletics.”

In the coming months, ELM will be working with campus managers to evaluate the performance of heavy use playing fields and review options for achieving healthy turf using less water. This includes considerations for the installation of high efficiency irrigation systems, course correcting existing systems, and implementing new ways to care for performance grass in order to reduce water usage.

According to the Town of Greenwich Water Commission and the Southwest Region Drought Group of the Connecticut Irrigation Contractors Association, new watering guidelines are expected to potentially cut irrigation run times by an estimated 50%, or more.

To ensure school playing fields remain resilient and use whatever level of water is allowed more efficiently, ELM suggests the following:

• Implement regular water uniformity tests (audits) to correct system inefficiencies.
• Ensure that the existing irrigation equipment and system is operating correctly.
• Use soil probes or soil moisture measuring devices to fine-tune irrigation.
• Work with facility managers to plan deficit irrigation strategies.
• Retrofit irrigation systems or install systems that offer greater uniformity, such as drip or other alternative
• Alter mowing approach, maintain at the tallest allowable height for the turf type; mowing goal to create root density (thereby more drought resistant) and tight canopy to reduce EVT and improve moisture retention.
• Alter fertilization practices to avoid excessive top growth and produce greatest rooting.
• Apply wetting agents and turf ‘sunscreen’ products that cut out UVB rays and protect against evaporation.
• Aerate to reduce soil compaction and thatch, and improve water infiltration rate and water use efficiency.
• Avoid runoff by ensuring that water application is not greater than the soil’s ability to absorb it.
• Repair systems to increase uniformity and reduce overlap.
• Identify water drainage deficits and drain lines and repair.
• Re-contour, prep, and re-sod the field as needed to correct performance inefficiencies, prevent sloping, puddling, and oversaturation.

ELM’s natural sports turf management program considers:
• Type of playing surface, performance criteria, and sport-specific use patterns.
• Local municipal compliance codes and evolving water agency regulations.
• Value-add, long-term strategies to save on all-in costs.
• Ongoing management and maintenance of soil health.
• Requirements for safe, non-toxic, organic fertilizers and soil amendments.
• Options for computer-driven technologies, weather based, precipitation sensors, and real-time remote-controlled irrigation systems.
• Site-specific irrigation equipment (in-ground systems, traveling systems, sub-surface micro options).
• The knowledge and expertise of a highly-specialized team of landscape and irrigation/water management professionals.

Moving forward, conversations about water conservation will grow from uncertainty to action as large commercial and institutional properties and schools understand that landscape drought response is not just for this year, but looking ahead at longer-term planning horizons. With wild swings in precipitation, with an exceptionally wet winter, and still low reservoir levels, the discussion about water will be focused on its efficiency.

To learn more about ELM’s sports turf program, water management action plan, and reducing your landscape’s vulnerability to drought, contact Bruce Moore at 203-316-5433.

(Photo: Tall fescue, a multi-tasking and durable turf grass commonly used as a playing surface in Connecticut independent schools).

ELMs Six-Point Approach to Using Less Water

With the onset of spring and reports of lower than normal area reservoir levels, ELM is rolling out its six-point action plan to help customers conserve water and improve irrigation efficiency.

1) Make sure irrigation is part of your operation’s financial dashboard system. Include water management as a metric for efficiency; measure and track performance.

2) Install weather-based sensors and smart controllers to manage water distribution, gauge irrigation requirements, and save cost. Update and repair out-of-date components which could lead to leaks, malfunctions, and wasted water. Invest in new technology and cloud-based digital systems that can save time, improve usage, and save money.

3) Use strategic mulching, mowing and fertilizing, which all greatly impact the health of the landscape, as well as the landscape’s ability to survive reduced irrigation.

4) Conduct a water audit and irrigation assessment to determine a prudent water plan for your property. The larger a property the more complex the microclimate and ecology, with sun, wind and shade impacting hydration requirements. Develop a water budget in context with local mandates, which determine a certain number of inches per year, gallons per square foot or percentage reduction of water use.

5) Use proper irrigation methods to improve system efficiencies. Install pressure-regulating devices, which apply water directly to plants, and high-efficiency nozzles or other devices such as drip system alternatives as conservation measures.

6) Maximize the use of native plant material and low-water use plants and trees. New England native plants provide good wildlife habitat and forage, and invite pollinators, such as migrating hummingbirds, bees, and beneficial insects, which benefit and enhance your landscape’s park-like beauty and sustainability, and make your property, and our communities, a better place to live, work and play.

Water conservation is an economically smart property management tactic. Contact Bruce Moore at 203.316.5433 to improve your approach to water management, identify sustainable alternatives to thirsty landscapes, and develop strategies for dealing with water use restrictions.

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Fairfield County Drought Update

Despite roller coaster winter weather and 14 inches less rain than normal in the past 12 months, an irrigation ban was recently announced by loyal authorities to be in effect for the towns of Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan and Stamford. As conditions change or continue to improve over the next few weeks, ELM will continue to keep you informed.

For commercial property and facility managers, and school and hospital campus administrators concerned about protecting and preserving the value of their properties’ curb appeal and the health of their landscape, the impact of less available water on plant health is a legitimate concern.

“Water management is integral to every process of our business,” said Bruce Moore, Jr., ELMs operations vice president. Conservation is not just something we sell; it’s a philosophy that guides our entire approach to responsibly managed landscapes. Most of our commercial customers are implementing sustainability programs or are LEED-focused; to the extent we can partner with them to meet their goals, it helps us meet our own commitment to be better stewards and better informed about real-time issues affecting everyone’s bottom line.”

There are some immediate things you can do to begin having a positive impact on your landscape’s ability to optimize reductions in water.

These include:

Irrigation Infrastructure
1) Perform a water audit to measure and manage usage more effectively.
2) Use high performing, improved efficiency systems for water delivery such as drip irrigation, precision nozzles, pressure compensation devices, and soaker hoses for targeted deep watering.
3) Install water compliance management tools, rain sensors, ‘smart’ digital technology, and precision monitoring software (weather based controllers, rain collectors, soil moisture sensors).
4) Use supplemental water collected from catchment systems, harvesting, gutters and downspouts, cisterns, and wells.
5) Prep and de-winterize irrigation systems and inspect for leaks, breakages, worn parts, or hydromechanical failure, and retrofit or repair before idling system pending further municipal water use advisories.
6) Improve drainage and soil quality to improve absorption and reduce waste.
7) Seek the highest possible level of uniformity to meet plant water demands.

Plant & Soil Health
1) Apply mulch and organic matter to help the soil retain moisture, reduce water requirements, moderate soil temperature, and control disease.
2) Evaluate and diagnose plant and tree health to identify physical and physiological effects of drought-stress, including disease, infestations, direct damage to roots, and foliage decline that may require attention, pruning or removal.
3) Replace thirsty plants with native or adapted plants attuned to regional and seasonal fluctuations.
4) Convert under-utilized turf areas to drought-tolerant plants and trees.
5) Maintain plant health through sound cultural practices, such as using biostimulants, mycorrhizae or similar compounds to stimulate root growth and regeneration.
6) Remove dead, damaged or dying branches and stressed plant material to help minimize problems with pests and disease.
7) Control weeds that compete with your landscape plants for moisture and rob them of valuable nutrients.

ELM will continue to monitor all matters related to state and county-wide drought advisories. If or when the ban is lifted, a twice-weekly watering schedule is expected to be in effect and ELM will re-program customers’ irrigation systems to comply and conform accordingly.

To learn more about working with ELM to implement the best irrigation strategy for your landscape, go to: http:// http://www.easternland.com/sustainability/water-conservation/
Or contact Bruce Moore at 203.316.5433.

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