University works to replace turf with drought-tolerant landscaping

Updated May 14, 2019
Photo: WikipediaPhoto: Wikipedia

The University of Utah is modifying its campus over the summer with water-conserving landscaping in mind. In light of the ongoing drought, the university to want to cut its water usage by 15 percent, according to Salt Lake City’s KSTU Television (Fox13 News).

“We started looking at this more than a decade ago – ways we can use less water – and that’s through a variety of tactics and what we’re focused on right now is areas of landscape that could be converted,” Shireen Ghorbani, director of facilities management, told the station.

The university is replacing hard to mow areas with native plants. Photo: University of UtahThe university is replacing hard to mow areas with native plants.
Photo: University of Utah

More than 30,000 square feet will be xerioscaped by landscaping companies to preserve water.

Materials will vary from rocks and mulch to desert plants and woodchips. Some university officials estimate the landscaping changes could reduce usage by as much as 60 percent.

In 2014, the University of Utah was one of the biggest water consumers in Salt Lake City, along with the Tesoro oil refinery and golf courses, according to Fox13 News.

The university had six meters in the top 20, consuming 481 million gallons of water. The reason behind this high usage is the size of the campus’ populace and the hospital that is also on campus.

“The university’s population swells to the size of a South Jordan or a Layton every day,” university spokeswoman Maria O’Mara told The Salt Lake Tribune.

A high-tech irrigation system known as Rain Bird’s Maxicom Central Control was installed on the campus in 2012 to conserve both water and labor costs. The system monitors the weather so that it can prevent sprinklers from turning on in the rain.

“In the long run you can actually save quite a bit of money; there’s less labor to take care of water-wise landscapes,” said Stephanie Dolmat-Connell, another member of the university’s facilities management staff.

That department is responsible for caring for 1,534 acres. Sloped areas that are difficult to mow are being replaced with drought-tolerant landscaping.

Some Utah residents are optimistic that the university’s efforts will inspire locals to try water-wise techniques themselves.

“If we all do a little bit, we end up doing a lot together,” said Patrick Newman, director of programs at Red Butte Garden in Salt Lake City. “Even starting small, if we remove a little bit of turf grass, if we all do that, the benefits are huge.”

By 2020 the university hopes to reach water neutrality – where its water use will match annual rainfall amounts – to meet all of the campus’ water-related needs.

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