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By Morgan Kelley, Conservation Program Specialist, Holland Board of Public Works
Did you know that outdoor water use can account for more than half of the total water used in summer months? Irrigating a 1,000 square foot lawn with just one half-inch of water uses 330 gallons of water! As we move into the spring and summer months, it is important to assess where to cut out unnecessary water use. We also need to be mindful of how much water is used at one time to prevent stress on our public water systems. Activities like flower and vegetable garden watering, lawn watering, and car washing are all areas we can make improvements in to be more water-smart citizens.
Pertaining to lawn care, watering in the early morning between 4 and 8 a.m. (before water demand rises) can reduce stress on water systems and prevent evaporation from occurring as quickly as it would during the hotter afternoon hours. Lawn watering is only necessary one to two times per week in the summer. Lawn mower blades should be set at three inches or higher. Taller grass shades the soil which maintains moisture, thereby reducing a lawn’s need for water.
Watering slowly and deeply during the spring and fall months will allow the water to be absorbed, train grass roots to grow deeply, and will prepare them for dry summer months, making them more tolerant to drought. Grass roots are generally not growing in the summer, so deep watering does not promote root growth at this time. This is why shallow watering during cooler parts of the day is preferable in the summer months.
If you have the option to manage your own landscaping, rain gardens are excellent water-conserving options in place of a traditional lawn. Rain gardens prevent excessive water use because they are planted with native shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses that have deep roots that retain and access water more effectively than traditional lawn grass. Therefore, they need water infrequently once established to be healthy (typically during regular precipitation events). Replacing lawn areas with native species of trees and shrubs, as well as more drought tolerant grasses and wild flowers, can greatly reduce water needs. These plants are already well-adapted to Michigan’s climate, and therefore rarely need additional watering.
Another way to conserve water in the spring and summer months is by using cisterns or rain barrels to capture and recycle rainwater from downspouts. Harvesting rainwater provides you with free water to use on your lawn, flower beds, shrubs, and newly planted trees. Additionally, washing your car on your lawn (as opposed to your driveway) helps recapture water to water your lawn.
Lastly, investing in WaterSense® (WS) certified outdoor and indoor products will save water, and therefore money. WS products are trusted, Environmental Protection Agency-backed items that provide optimal water efficiency. Products include sprinkler controllers, sprinkler heads, sprinkling system audits, toilets, washers, shower heads, and more. Look for the WS seal when shopping for these products.
The Macatawa Watershed Project launched its Seal of Approval program in 2006. The program encourages local businesses and others in the watershed to use lawn care and landscaping best management practices to protect our environment. In 2018, the program was re-branded to “Watershed Partners.” This designation more accurately reflects the nature of the program.
Program members include lawn care and landscaping professionals. Businesses that applied for the program and met the criteria received a special “seal” logo that they can display and use on company materials. This designation tells the consumer that the company has agreed to and is following practices to protect Lake Macatawa’s water quality.
You can view the 2019 Lawn Care and Landscaping Watershed Partners here.
By Rob Vink, MACC Agricultural Technician
It has been a long, cold winter and many of our watershed’s farmers are eager to begin spring work. Spring begins a time of evaluating conservation practices implemented last fall. Cover crops have steadily gained popularity over the last few years. Evaluating cover crops in the spring helps us determine which planting method, timing of planting, and species of seed works best in our area. Cold, wet fall weather can have a detrimental impact on cover crops that are planted late in the season. Germination rates tend to be lower the later in the year cover crops are planted. If fields are wet and harvest is delayed, many fields are not planted with cover crops at all. The MACC provided funding for nearly 2,000 acres last year through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) grant. This was a great number to see, but fell about 600 acres short of the expected acres to be covered by the grant. This was primarily due to wet field conditions last fall.
Over the last two seasons, planting cover crops into standing corn or bean crops has worked well when planted in late August or early September before cash crops were harvested. We typically see drier field conditions and have enough warm growing days for cover crops to germinate and start growing. Typically at this point in the season, the cash crop is fully mature and cover crops will not compete with the crop for nutrients and water. Corn and bean crops are harvested and the cover crop is left to grow for the rest of the fall and continues growing in the spring before the new crop is planted. Planting cover crops early keeps a living, growing plant in the soil at all times and armors the soil against erosion.
As our current GLRI grant comes to an end this year, we are continuing to seek and apply for further grant funding. We recently applied for a grant through the Great Lakes Commission (GLC) to continue funding cover crops and expand into areas of the watershed where we have not implemented as many conservation practices. Cover crops continue to be very popular and it is a very cost-effective practice for the water quality benefits received. We currently have 1,000 acres committed for the current GLC Proposal.
We have also seen a growing interest in grassed waterways and continue to work with growers and contractors to implement this practice. The long term benefits of grassed waterways are an important piece to the puzzle of improving water quality. Grassed waterways are included as a funded practice in the GLC grant proposal. If the grant is awarded, we will have funding available for around 4,000 feet of waterway. Currently 1,900 feet has been verbally committed.
We are excited to see the work that farmers are doing in the watershed to improve water quality. The momentum being seen in the positive shift towards conservation is noticeable. The MACC has worked with a number of great partners to make this work possible, but ultimately the commitment to and implementation of conservation practices comes from the farmers. We would love to take all the credit and praise, but the farmers in our watershed should and must be commended for all the great work they do.
By Dan Callam, Outdoor Discovery Center Network
Project Clarity has been implementing projects around the Macatawa Watershed for five years. During that time frame, our partners at the Annis Water Resources Institute (AWRI) have been monitoring conditions around projects sites, major tributaries, and Lake Macatawa itself. Each year, they produce an in-depth report about the extent of their activities, as well as a dashboard of how healthy the lake was the previous year.
2018 saw the lowest in-lake levels of phosphorus that Lake Macatawa has seen since regular monitoring began in the 1970’s. Averaging around 72 parts per billion, phosphorus levels fluctuate throughout the year, depending on the season and factors like the amount of precipitation the area receives. Phosphorus is the main nutrient of concern in the Macatawa Watershed, often bound to sediment that muddies the lake. Phosphorus can lead to algae blooms and throw off the natural nutrient balance of inland lakes.
While it is great to see the levels of phosphorus drop, we need to keep working on reducing phosphorus and keep an eye on the lake. Factors such as changing lake levels, dredging, increasing precipitation, and changing weather patterns can impact levels of phosphorus from year to year. For instance, 2017 saw nearly two times more precipitation than any previous year lake levels were monitored. However, likely due to best management practices and projects implemented across the watershed, phosphorus levels did not spike nearly as high as they might have twenty years ago. We still have work to do in order to reach the target set by state and federal regulators of 50 parts per billion.
Click here to read the full Lake Macatawa Dashboard and Monitoring Report for 2018.
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