A Water-Wise Industry By Bridget White, Editor

Six months ago, when GPN ran a 3-part series on waterconservation, I had no idea it would lead to Salt Lake City, Utah. But here Iam, sitting in a cozy hotel room, watching the Raiders take a beating andwaiting for tomorrow’s start of the Utah Green Conference. I’ve been invited tospeak for four hours about the Federal Clean Water Act, water conservationmeasures and drought-tolerant plants. And while I’m a little nervous abouthaving to fill such a large chunk of time, I’m excited to see that people arealready preparing for what’s ahead.

Because it is coming, drought, I mean. Long-rangepredictions for the state of Utah, and for more than 30 other states, showbelow- to significantly below-average rainfall. And that’s on top of what, formany states, has been a succession of two, three, even four dry years.

But the people of Utah are getting ready. Over half of thesessions at the 3-day conference are focused on irrigation, water conservationor other drought-preparation topics. And if what I saw earlier today is anyindication, attendees are really looking forward to these sessions. They’re notjust here for the new variety or increasing profit topics that look so sexy inbrochures. My very dry, introductory talk has even been placed in a room thatseats 100 people, and organizers expect it to fill up.

Get Wacky

Are you wondering if their thin air at 4,000 feet has madethat group out there in Utah just a bit wacky? I hope not, but I have to admitthat I’m a little worried — not that they’re all wacky, but that the rest ofus are not wacky enough. That is, if being prepared is wacky.

Over the past few months, I’ve been in greenhouses fromFlorida to Illinois, and I’ve seen lots of wasted water. Dripping microtubes,thoroughly watered walkways and lots and lots of irrigation-water puddles. Withso much good, fresh water being so often wasted, I’m convinced that manyoperations are contributing to water shortages.

Sound like your greenhouse? Don’t worry, I won’t tell, butthe time is quickly approaching when annual restrictions will be the least ofyour problems. The Federal Clean Water Act will necessitate that everyone moveto closed irrigation systems and water-conscious municipalities will startasking the hard questions of those they perceive as heavy water users.”How much fresh water do you use each day for irrigation?” “Whatwater-saving measures do you have in place?” I know growers, outside ofCalifornia, that have already been asked these questions, and they didn’t havethe answers. In front of state-level legislators who were ready to supporttheir position, they didn’t have answers. When they left, they also didn’t havethe special waiver they were seeking that would have exempted them from waterrestrictions.

A Good Example

Take heart. My warnings aren’t meant to discourage but tomotivate. And to prove it, I’ll give you an example of what a well-informed,proactive industry can accomplish. In preparing for my talk on waterconservation, I ran across some information about how Virginia’s car washindustry battled last year’s water restrictions. We could take a lesson or twofrom them.

In case you don’t know, the drought in Virginia last summerwas the worst on record. Before it was over, cities across the state werebanning lawn and landscape watering, fleet washing and any other high water-usageactivities. Some green goods companies were even told not to maintain theirstock, but the self-serve car wash industry operated relatively untouched. Thedifference? Long before restrictions were put into place, car wash owners andindustry representatives had educated state and local government officialsabout both their water-wise practices and their economic impact. So while ourindustry suffered, self-serve car washes were praised as community leaders. Gofigure. Even if they do reuse the majority of their water, as claimed, it stillseems like a waste. But, then again, I’ve never been a car-washer.

Regardless, the fruits of this industry’s initiative shouldinspire us to start working against water restrictions for our industry — ifit’s not already too late. By the time you read this, spring will be rightaround the proverbial corner for many states, so the opportunity is passing.Still, some time, a few water meters and a bit of luck seem like an investmentwe can afford.

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