Steele: Dealing with water restrictions

A whopping 24 per cent water use goes mostly to keep lawns unnaturally green in the Okanagan's semi-desert climate.

The low growing

Most of the province is experiencing worse than normal drought conditions.

This week, I received a panic email from the Sechelt Garden Club. Effective July 10, the Sunshine Coast Regional District went on Stage 3 watering restrictions.

The only watering allowed is using hand held containers or hand held hoses with shut-off devices for watering trees, shrubs, flowers or vegetables. There’s a complete ban on using sprinklers or watering lawns.

They asked me for tips to cope with the sudden, extreme change and to speak at their September meeting.

These are some of the suggestions I offered the Sechelt gardeners:

• Keep gardens free of weeds. They compete with plants for water.

• Trim back annuals and perennials that are leggy or floppy. They’ll need less water and re-grow compactly.

• Mulch around plants to hold moisture. Weed thoroughly then soak ground well before applying mulch on top of the soil. Use any kind of compost material—straw, spoiled hay, clippings from plants, wood chips, bark mulch, etc.

• Reduce or stop any fertilizing as fertilizer stimulates growth causing plants to need more water.

• Take notes now to make changes later. What does best in the heat and lack of water? What is struggling the most?

Sechelt’s email led me to investigate current watering restrictions of Okanagan communities and water purveyors. I did this by checking their websites.

With the exception of the City of Kelowna, all have a basic restriction of watering based on odd or even addresses. Some may water with odd or even calendar days while others are restricted to two specified days of the week.

Rutland further restricts this to running one sprinkler at a time.

There is no watering allowed in any of them between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m., the hottest time of day.

Some, like Penticton, extend this to no watering between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Most request that automatic systems be run in the night when other water usage is low.

Lake Country restricts automatic systems to running on alternate days. Drip irrigation, which is the most efficient, may be used at any time.

The City of Kelowna has absolutely no watering restrictions, so the question is why not?

In 2010, the Okanagan Basin Water Board Supply and Demand Study determined that our average use was 675 litres of water/person/day (compared to 490 for B.C. and 329 for Canada).

In summer it jumped to 1,000 litres due to outdoor irrigation.

Of all water used in the valley, 55 per cent goes to agriculture, five per cent golf courses, four per cent commercial use, two per cent parks and open spaces, two per cent industrial, one per cent institutional and seven per cent residential indoor use.

A whopping 24 per cent goes to outdoor residential use, much of this to keep lawns unnaturally green in the Okanagan’s semi-desert climate.