Conserving water can save money, help city cope

Friday, June 8, 2012

Thursday's issuance of a "Water Watch" by the City of McCook brings back memories for anyone who has lived here for 20 or 30 years.

Such actions were common when the city had to take wells out of service because of the nitrate problem.

We never really had a water shortage, but big summer demand forced the city to put high-nitrate wells into service, throwing the city out of water quality compliance and forcing it to do things like buy bottled water for pregnant or nursing mothers.

Water quality isn't a problem now, but it seems like a waste to pump water out of the ground, run it through a $14 million water treatment plant, throw 10 percent of it away with the brine, then dump it on the ground -- water a little too much, and it runs into the storm sewer on its way back to the Republican River.

The city is asking residents not to water between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day to cut down water usage, which has been running 4.4 million gallons a day -- peaking over 5 million gallons Tuesday and Wednesday.

That aforementioned water treatment plant can produce 6.5 million gallons of water per day, but running more than 5 million strains the booster pumps and wells, and puts stress on the water mains.

We've noticed many more lawns than usual being neglected, and more and more being reduced through landscaping or replaced with tougher turf such as buffalo grass.

We'd like to see the city encourage such measures -- something like the tree rebate program -- but can understand the dilemma. Yes, sometimes the public needs to be asked to cut down water usage, but most of the time the water department depends on a certain level of usage to meet its budget.

But those same water bills do a pretty good job of encouraging conservation. Many of us water too much -- a half inch every two or three days for a total of 1.5 inches a week should do it. And, don't forget to subtract any rainfall from that amount. July is traditionally the rainiest month of the year in McCook.

In a pinch, research shows Kentucky bluegrass can stay green on a half-inch of water per week in a single irrigation. In a drought -- and we're on our way toward a drought if we don't receive rain soon -- bluegrass will turn brown and go dormant but survive three or four weeks and still recover later if foot traffic is minimized and it gets a half-inch of irrigation.

When you mow, using a higher setting, 2.5 to 3 inches for Kentucky bluegrass and 3 to 4 inches for tall fescue, will result in deeper roots.

And, use a mulching blade to leave clippings on the lawn. Clippings preserve that precious moisture and return that expensive fertilizer to the soil.

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