Congress Eyes Water Use

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed H.R. 1145, the National Water Research and Development Initiative Act of 2009. Now, as the bill moves to the U.S. Senate, the Irrigation Association looks to continue playing an active role to help ensure that legislation dealing with water recognizes the benefits of water use efficiency, along with the value that healthy, responsibly irrigated plants and turfgrass have on the environment.

H.R. 1145, sponsored by Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), is designed to improve the federal government's role in designing and implementing federal water research to address changes in water use, quality, supply and demand in the United States, which includes providing additional support to increase water supply through greater efficiency, conservation and measures to abate water quality impairment. This initiative will be administered by establishing an interagency committee that will be led by the U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Irrigation Association has taken a keen approach to ensure that legislation dealing with water recognizes the benefits of water use efficiency, while also promoting efficiencies as part of an overall water management solution. "H.R. 1145 does just that," says John Farner, federal affairs director for the Irrigation Association. "We are pleased that the Irrigation Association could support this legislation, as it creates opportunities for dialogue and collaboration at the top levels of government that don't currently exist."

More science needed

That type of dialogue and collaboration is definitely needed, Farner adds, as is additional science in the arena of landscape water use. "It will be up to our industry to stay involved, and to develop a wish list that we communicate to this (interagency) committee. Congress is beginning to recognize the value of efficient irrigation, but science and data are king to advocate our messages."

Some of the data Farner is alluding to includes:

Universally available and standardized ET (evapotranspiration) data for every area of the United States. "The data we have now is limited," Farner points out.

Research to develop comprehensive plant water use characteristics. "We have very limited data on a national scale, and much of our irrigation methodology is based upon anecdotal evidence rather than hard science," he says.

Justification. "Many look at landscape water use as discretionary and not justifiable, particularly in times of short supply," Farner says. "We have to look beyond the aesthetic benefits and carve out some quantifiable benefits of healthy plants and turfgrass. Plants are neutral machines that prevent erosion, manage stormwater, sequester carbon, produce oxygen, trap dust and cool their surroundings. Understanding such characteristics should help us create a blueprint that reveals some critical and optimum water management scenarios for managing and/or maximizing the benefits of healthy plants in the overall environmental equation."

Beyond crisis mode

H.R. 1145 has now made its way to the Senate. Whether it gets to the floor is anyone's guess. But regardless, Farner points out, the water debate will continue throughout the current Congress.

Energy/climate change is one of the Senate's top priorities. And according to Farner, the landscape industry has an opportunity to advocate for the eco-system benefits of responsibly managed and irrigated landscapes as part of the climate change debate. "Through efficient irrigation and other responsible maintenance of a landscape, a net environmental positive exists," Farner says. "We are truly making our communities 'green'—and this is the story that needs to be told."

Aside from H.R. 1145, the Irrigation Association has successfully advocated the importance of water during other public policy discussions. First is the introduction of House Concurrent Resolution 118, which recognizes July as Smart Irrigation Month. Smart Irrigation Month is an industry campaign to increase public awareness of the value of water use efficiency. (See sidebar.)

Secondly, H.R. 2368, the Water Advanced Technologies for Efficient Resource Use Act of 2009, creates a nationwide rebate program, to be run by states, for the purchase of EPA WaterSense-labeled products and services. The bill, which is now part of the climate change bill currently moving through the House of Representatives, allows individuals who purchase services from an EPA WaterSense-labeled irrigation contractor and/or soon-to-be WaterSense-labeled irrigation smart controller, to qualify for a federally funded rebate for the services or products purchased.

"I think these rebates are a good strategy to encourage the marketplace to adopt newer, more efficient technologies," says Andy Smith, external affairs director for the Irrigation Association. "But our industry should consider these incentives to be temporary in nature. Our long-term strategy must be to sell efficient irrigation technologies on the merits of keeping plant life healthy without creating runoff, percolation losses or other negative environmental impacts."

Obviously, places like Georgia, Arizona and California are acutely aware of the water shortage issue. But other regions are taking notice as well. The problem, historically speaking, is that discussions surrounding water use often don't gain momentum until a crisis has already occurred. "The real tragedy," Smith adds, "is that once the crisis passes, many return to business as usual."

As a side note, Smith and Farner concur that water supply crises tend to result in policy creation that may be over-reactive and potentially burdensome to the landscape industry and/or other affected stakeholders. "Any policy that is created during crisis needs to be re-examined when the crisis passes to make sure it has a foundation in science rather than opinion—and that such policy treats all stakeholders in an equitable fashion," Farner adds.

H.R. 1145 seems to be a step in the right direction.

July is Smart Irrigation Month

The U.S. House of Representatives recently introduced a resolution celebrating July as Smart Irrigation Month, helping support the irrigation industry's efforts to educate the public about the importance of using water wisely, responsibly and efficiently.

U.S. House Representatives John Linder (R-GA), Jim Costa (D-CA) and Bart Stupak (D-MI) introduced House Concurrent Resolution 118. "We would like thank (them) for their leadership and continued support of smart irrigation practices and technologies," said Irrigation Association executive director Deborah Hamlin. "Smart Irrigation Month is a valuable opportunity for businesses to promote water-saving products and services during what is traditionally the busiest time of the year for water use."

In 2006, the Irrigation Association named July Smart Irrigation Month to raise awareness of the benefits of smart irrigation practices. Since then, Association members in every segment of the industry have used Smart Irrigation Month as an opportunity to promote efficient irrigation practices, technologies and methods.

By displaying the Smart Irrigation Month logo, Association members are part of an industry-wide effort to promote efficient irrigation. In addition to using the logo, members promote efficient water use by highlighting the latest innovations in irrigation technology. Irrigation Association-certified professionals help homeowners and other water users save water and money by installing systems that best meet clients' needs.

Visit for water-saving tips, marketing materials, logos available for download, public service announcements, press releases and other free tools to promote Smart Irrigation Month and efficient irrigation.