Water use down considerably in Salt Lake City

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Millions of gallons of water, hundreds of thousands of dollars.

That's how much Salt Lake International Airport has saved by switching out thirsty lawns for water-wise landscaping.

Since urging conservation, water use is down considerably in Salt Lake City. It's a simple equation, really.

By switching to water-wise landscapes, the water savings can be impressive -- especially for a large institutional user like the airport.

Slow the Flow: At-Home Tips
- Group plants with similar water needs together.
- Don't water your lawn every day.
- Install a separate drip irrigation system for trees, shrubs and flowers.
- Cover bare soil with a thick layer of mulch.
- Don't water during the heat of the day.
- Adjust your sprinklers to avoid watering sidewalks and driveways.

At the airport these days, many medians and much of the landscaping is covered in a variety of grasses, flowers, bushes, shrubs, mulch and gravel.

Not that long ago, those same medians were covered with strips of Kentucky bluegrass.

"Before, they had fully landscaped areas with not-native plants, plants that required a lot of water," said Lisa Harrison-Smith, spokesperson for Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker. "Now they're all native plants that are more water-wise and more water friendly, and that has made a huge difference."

Sprinklers, which distribute water indiscriminately, were replaced by drip systems, using a fraction of the water at precise locations.

Over seven years, as the airport switched to a water-wise landscape, it saved 600 million gallons of water -- a cost savings of $300,000.

The changes at the airport are just the latest sign of increased awareness about water use.

Campaigns like "Slow the Flow," as well as efforts by water districts and cities, have all urged conservation. So have changes in water rates enacted over the past decade.

"Whether we're in a drought or not, this isn't about this year or next year," said Salt Lake City Water Conservation Coordinator Stephanie Duer. "This is about a lifelong change in our patterns."

Other institutional water users also made changes. At the Hogle Zoo, water consumption is down 26 percent over the past 10 years. Salt Lake City's parks reduced water usage by 20 percent.

Homeowners are also catching on.

"Throughout the entire city, all water -- so all water used for landscaping, irrigation, tap water -- we've cut that percentage of water by upwards of 17 percent since 2000," said Harrison-Smith.

Water watchers have one key tip if you're switching to a water-wise landscape: Be sure to still give your trees adequate water.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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