Water, our most essential resource

Photo by Stephan Van Dam

Without clean water there is no life, no economy, no future.  Water, like the air we breathe, is essential to our existence.  Yet, increasingly we are experiencing droughts, water shortages and compromised drinking water.  Our turf lawns are a big part of the problem of excessive water usage and poisoned run-off that enters our watershed and bays.

The Suffolk County Water Authority issued at least four Emergency Warnings about our water supply during the summer of 2022.  Their recommendation: stop irrigating lawns from midnight to 7 a.m.  They recommend first and foremost residents need to change their patterns of irrigating lawns and yards.  By the fifth warning they hinted that all lawn irrigation may soon have to end.

A NBC news story claimed that 70 percent of our water usage on Eastern Long Island comes from yard and lawn irrigation.  The fire departments on the East End of Long Island warned that water pressure was at dangerous levels limiting their ability to respond to potential emergencies.

 

THE WATERSHED BENEATH OUR FEET
Like the air surrounding us we are seldom conscious of water coursing underneath the place we are standing, walking, or driving on.

On Eastern Long Island our drinking water comes from aquifers less than eleven feet below the pavement, below our toxic lawns, our cement factory, our Town recycling center and our super-fund site at the East Hampton airport.

WHAT HAPPENS IN YARDS ENDS UP IN THE BAY
We seldom give thought to the relationship between native trees, shrubs, plants, grasses and our watershed.

Algae blooms on Long Island

HEAT & DROUGHTS HAMMER THE GLOBE
Now, more than ever, we need to rethink how to preserve our resources, rather than depleting them. Given our reality of severe droughts, disappearing lakes and stressed aquifers, we need to begin re-imagining and changing our landscaping practices. We can begin at home, in our own yards to help preserve and reconstitute healthy bays.

Photo by Stephan Van Dam

TURF LAWN IRRIGATION
There are somewhere around 40 million acres of lawn in the lower 48, according to an estimate derived from 2005 satellite imaging by NASA.

Environmentalists have been warning us for years about the wasteful nature of lawn irrigation.  That 2005 NASA study estimated that there are three times more acres of irrigated lawn in the U.S than irrigated corn.

The Natural Resources Defense Council determined in a 2021 study that in the US three trillion gallons of water (3,000,000,000,000 !!!) were used annually on lawns:  That’s madness & water we don’t have.

The EPA found that more than a third of all residential water use in the US currently goes toward landscaping.

TOXIC RUN-OFF
All that watering leads to excessive run-off containing the brew of chemicals folks use on their lawns that ends up in waterways, watershed and drinking water.

Photo by Stephan Van Dam

WE NEED TO CHANGE THE MODEL
When it comes to lawns, our landscaping model isn’t working. We over water, fostering shallow rooted turf, bad at retaining water. Consequently, when it does rain hard, the fertilizers, fungicides and whatever pesticides we apply to our lawns end up running down our streets into our waterways.  We need to change this model.

HERE’S HOW:

  1. Reduce your lawn size.
  2. Use native plants adapted to our extremely well-drained, nutrient-poor, sandy soils.
  3. Seed remaining lawn with clover, a nitrogen sink.
  4. Remaining lawn: Water only once or twice a week for more resilience; cut to 3 or 4 inch length every week; leave clippings on lawn for fertilizer. (Edwina von Gal (Perfect Earth Project PRJCT)

WHY PLANT NATIVES?
Native plants clean toxins from soil. Native plants have extensive root systems that clean toxins from the soil and store nitrogen and carbon.  See graphic.

Graphic by Stephan Van Dam

“Native plants are naturally adapted to the type of climate, soil, rainfall and availability of pollinators, like bees and butterflies and require low maintenance and do not require fertilizers.” —  Peconic Estuary Partnership

The Peconic Estuary Partnership will even Pay you to Go Native!
If you live within the Peconic Watershed, homeowners can earn up to $500 to offset the expense of installing green infrastructure on their properties.”

STOP USING PESTICIDES & CHEMICAL FERTILIZERS
How to Start Replacing Your Lawn With Native plants:
A simple first step to replace your lawn with natives is to smother the lawn with cardboard and wood chips or mulch mixed with compost in the fall. By spring you can plant directly on top.

Go to our Getting Started section for ideas to make your yard beautiful and part of the solution.

Photo by Leonard Green