By Elizabeth Jeffrey

With the West’s hot dry summers and uncertain snowfall in recent years, it’s no wonder that saving water has been a growing concern. But not this year you say! This year the Wood River Valley was blessed with 189% of our usual water content thanks to our long wet winter, so clearly we don’t have to sweat it this year, right?  Oh, so very wrong.

A couple dozen local residents who wanted to see what they might be able to do to reduce their water use met at the 2nd Trout Friendly Free Workshop earlier this summer. Sharon Browder’s workshop on the 7 Steps for Xeriscaping offered up specific ways that to reduce our water needs while still enjoying beautiful landscapes.

Xeriscape design, Wood River Valley.

Xeric, pronounced “zear -ick,” is a word made up in the 1980s to mean “low water,” and not, as many people believe, zero-scaping or zero water use. To set the tone for our xeric frame of mind, as the workshop began, we were reminded that there is still a legal water call on our Wood River water rights by about 40 water right holders living down river from us who have senior rights.

In previous years, the senior rights holders have made a “water call,” which is a legal process to force junior users, like the cities of the Wood River Valley, to drastically reduce our municipal water usage so that their surface and well water will remain sufficient for their use. As a way to be prepared for that eventuality and to get our landscape water use under better control, it’s necessary to take a look at what we plant and how we manage our gardens and watering.

A basic look at xeriscaping takes you through a combination of just a few practical gardening steps to save water, time and chemicals all while creating a landscape most fitting for our high desert environment.

Seven Xeriscape tips are:

  • Plan and Design: A basic design plan makes it easy to complete your project in phases and you can pretty easily make your yard conversion over in 1 to 3 years.
  • Create Practical Turf Areas: Make grass areas manageable in size, shape and grade.
  • Select Low-Water Plants: Group plants according to their water needs so that you are giving all your plants the right level of water without giving any of them too much. Experimentation and changing watering levels over time will help to determine how much and how often to water.
  • Use Soil Amendments: Compost is the best choice when you plant and after.
  • Use Mulches: 3-4 inches of wood chips or cobble rock will reduce evaporation and keep the soil cool.
  • Irrigate Efficiently: Develop and maintain the right irrigation design for your plants’ needs and with a monthly maintenance check on your system to find leaks and change timers for the changing water needs of our varied summer months.
  • Maintain the Landscape Properly: Appropriate mowing, watering, weeding, pruning and fertilizing will make the plants work at their best throughout the season.

And, if you’re thinking that you’re probably doing okay with your watering program, check out these recent figures of water use for the average gallons of water used, per person, per day in various worldwide locations;

20-35 gallons per person, per day: Most of Africa

80 gallons per person, per day: China

40 gallons per person, per day: United Kingdom

145 gallons per person, per day: United States

700 gallons per person, per day:  Wood River Valley

The explanation for our amazingly high local water use seems to be found in the fact that most Americans use 70% of their domestic water inside their homes, with toilets using the greatest amount.  We use that same amount of water inside our homes but, we reverse the numbers, by drawing 70% of our 700 gallons of pumped, potable water to spray onto our yards for our summer plantings.

Thanks for helping us turn that around, one yard at a time!

Xeriscape design in Indian Creek. Photo by Gerry Morrison.