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checkMinimize water use for irrigation and grounds maintenance.

All PIM content was independently developed and reviewed to be vendor-, product-, and service provider-neutral.


Depending on the local climate and the extent and type of landscaping, water consumed for irrigation can comprise a significant portion of a facility’s total water consumption (as much as 25 percent). A number of simple strategies can reduce water consumed for this purpose.

  • Project Talking Points

    Strategies to reduce water consumed by landscaping practices relate to a number of aspects related to gardening and maintenance, including:

    • Plant choice
    • Watering schedules
    • Maintenance methods
    • Irrigation method
    • Water controls
    • Means to reduce evaporation
  • Triple Bottom Line Benefits

    • Cost benefits: Reduced water and sewer bills due to significantly reduced potable water consumption.
    • Environmental benefits: Decreased amount of water withdrawn from natural water bodies, protecting the natural water cycle and decreasing strain on the municipal water supply. Reduced energy use and emissions associated with treating and supplying potable water.
    • Health and safety benefits: Reduced unintentional ponding, which can create hazards for pedestrian traffic. If done well (and with buy-in from users), water-conscious landscaping can be just as pleasing as a green lawn.
    • Quality and outcomes - Metrics are in development. If you have suggestions, please  contact us or participate in the discussion below.

  • Purchasing Considerations

    If you have suggestions for purchasing considerations, or suggested sample contract language for any product or contracted service, please participate in the discussion below.

  • How-To

    A number of simple irrigation practice improvements can result in significant water savings. Engage staff to identify opportunities. Those with direct involvement with the irrigation system will likely offer practical ideas that are easily implemented.

    •  Plant choice
      1. Design landscape that requires minimal supplemental water.
      2. Reduce use of turf grass to the extent possible. Instead, use green space for planting beds, gardens, or habitat areas. Alternative ground covers that require less water include clover or slow-growing grasses.
      3. As plants need to be replaced or new plants added, choose locally adapted plants that do not need irrigation after the establishment period.
    • Watering schedules

    Assess opportunities to reduce water use in landscaping operations (e.g., water early in the morning or in the evening when wind and evaporation are lowest).

    • Maintenance methods
      1. Apply mulch around plants to reduce evaporation and weed growth.
      2. Physically contain mulch so it does not spread onto hardscape, reducing its effectiveness in the landscaping and incurring additional cost for regular replacement.
      3. Add mineral or organic soil amendments (e.g., compost) to foster development of soil that holds water longer.
      4. Check that sprinklers are directed at landscaping, not hardscape.
      5. Use brooms, rather than hoses, to clean hardscape.
      6. Have maintenance personnel regularly (e.g., monthly) survey landscaped areas to determine if any sprinklers are misdirected or broken and where mulch could appropriately be applied.
    • Irrigation methods

    Sprinkler-type irrigation methods are inefficient because a significant amount of the water evaporates and it is more difficult for the water to reach a plant’s root system. Over time, consider implementing drip irrigation, which is an underground or surface-level piping system that delivers water much closer to a plant’s roots and minimizes evaporation.

    • Controls

    Over time, consider implementing climate-responsive controls, which include sensing features typical of a weather station, including sensing rainfall and temperature. These controls can include schedules so that irrigation can be timed according to both daily weather conditions and an optimal watering schedule (e.g., early in the morning or in the evening).

    • Consider non-potable water or rainwater as a source for irrigation water.
      1. Over time, consider alternate sources for irrigation water. Cooling coil condensate and collected rainwater are excellent options because the water typically does not need additional treatment.
      2. Municipal recycled water – or purple pipe – systems are becoming more common, particularly in drought-challenged areas. Contact your local water utility to find out if such a system may serve your site. Rates for recycled water are usually discounted from the potable water rate.
  • Tools

    If you have an ROI tool, calculator, or similar resources to share, please contact us or participate in the discussion below.

  • Case Studies

    Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

    • Key Point
      • Grounds maintenance staff were able to achieve a 30 percent reduction in water consumption for turf irrigation, partly due to the installation of a “smart” watering system.

    Ipswich River Water Conservation Studies

    • Key Point
      • Weather-based irrigation controllers and moisture-retaining soil amendments contribueted significantly to water conservation.
  • Regulations, Codes and Standards, Policies

    • Check with your local water authority regarding seasonal watering restrictions.
    • As more regions build municipal recycled water – or purple pipe – systems, facilities may soon be restricted to using recycled water for irrigation needs. Consult with your local water authority to stay abreast of any related changes.
    • Due to the urgency of water conservation in California, the state has led the way from a regulatory perspective. Reference documents include the Water Conservation Act of 2009 and the 20x2020 Water Conservation Plan.
  • Cross References: LEED

    • LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations + Maintenance
      • Sustainable Sites Credit 2: Building Exterior & Hardscape Management Plan
      • Sustainable Sites Credit 3: Integrated Pest Management, Erosion Control and Landscape Management Plan
      • Sustainable Sites Credit 6: Stormwater Management
      • Water Efficiency Credit 3: Water Efficient Landscaping
  • Cross References: GGHC

    • Operations: Sustainable Sites Management Credit SSM 1.1 Site Management: Building Exterior & Hardscape Management Plan
    • Operations: Sustainable Sites Management Credit SSM 2.1 Reduced Site Disturbance: Protect of Restore Open Space or Habitat
    • Operations: Sustainable Sites Management Credit SSM 3 Stormwater Management
    • Operations: Facilities Management Credit FM 2.1-2.5 Potable Water Use Reduction: Total Building Reduction
    • Operations: Facilities Management Credit FM 2.6 Potable Water Use Reduction: Water Efficient Landscaping
    • Operations: Facilities Management Credit FM 4.1 Building Operations & Maintenance: Staff Education
  • Cross References: EEP

    • Use WaterSense irrigation partners, who are certified for water-efficient landscaping services.
    • Purchase organic, bio-based fertilizers rather than chemical fertilizers.
  • PIM Synergies

  • Education Resources

    If you have any information or resources to contribute, please contact us or participate in the discussion below.

  • More Resources

  • PIM Descriptors


    Level: Intermediate

    Category List:

    • Irrigation and Landscape
    • WATER

    PIM Attributes:

    • Optimize Operations

    Improvement Type:

    • Operations


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