By Marne Hayes EBS Columnist
With all the recent heavy rains, unprecedented flooding, and broken records for high river flows, it’s hard to imagine that southwestern Montana could still face a potential drought. But given our water table, the long- and short-term implications of a lower snowfall year and a late season, the rapid onset of rains and high runoff, it is more important than ever to be aware of the upcoming summer months and how we approach water conservation, including in spaces inside and outside our homes.
Big Sky’s landscapes are part of the Gallatin River watershed, and our landscaping choices influence water quality, water quantity, fish and wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities. who depend on a healthy river. With summer water use in our community exceeding winter use nearly seven times, thoughtful landscape design and maintenance is essential to creating a water-friendly landscape, conserving water, and protecting the sustainability of the Gallatin River.
Landscaping that requires extensive irrigation is a major contributor to water wastage through evaporation. In fact, 65% of the water used for irrigation is wasted when we water our lawns and landscapes in the heat of a summer day. This puts enormous pressure on our water resources, reducing the flows of the Gallatin and its tributaries while exacerbating the water quality problems that already exist.
By planting native wildflowers, grasses and shrubs in place of the traditional green lawn and incorporating efficient irrigation practices, we can actually use the spaces in our backyards and around our homes to restore habitat. while conserving water, saving time and money.
There are several resources that can provide helpful landscaping advice for our drought-prone mountain environment – and offer planting guidelines and principles that optimize water use while maintaining flexibility in design. healthy, attractive, profitable and water-efficient landscapes. Our Big Sky Water Wise landscape guide is a good place to start. This planning tool sets out several easy-to-implement basic principles and ensures a more conscious way to create space that saves water, habitat, and clean, healthy flows in the Gallatin.
Things to consider when starting your own journey to more watery landscapes:
- Start with a plan: Consider the elements of your own space that include sunny, windy, shady or
- Design like a pro: Incorporate ideas for convenient lawn areas, mulch and plants grouped by watering needs, or shaded areas or sloping areas.
- Soils are the secret: Soil textures and organic matter are key factors in how soils store water. Consider water-holding capacity: How water naturally moves through your soil will be key in determining how effectively you can use water to optimize plant health.
- Go Native: Native plants grow in better balance with nature in their endemic regions. In Big Sky, these native characteristics include drought- and fire-tolerant plant choices that are also quick to mature, hardy to low temperatures, and can adapt to dry, rocky, or sandy soils.
- The grass isn’t always greener: which means that lawns are usually the main culprit for the inefficient use of water in our landscapes. Where water is scarce, highly irrigated and manicured green grass areas don’t make sense, consider a more drought tolerant grass species instead.
- Irrigate efficiently: Think about how to optimally deliver efficient water to your landscape. Plan ahead to reap the benefits that efficient irrigation will bring to your landscape.
- Maintenance is Key: All landscapes require care and upkeep to thrive, and a waterscape is no different. Take good care of your native areas, follow recommended guidelines for efficient planting and smart irrigation, and your landscape will help you conserve water, habitat, and money in the long run.
Saving water in your landscape is a small way to make a huge difference to the Gallatin River, and transforming your landscape should be easy, so check out the new outdoor rebates offered by the Gallatin River Task Force for Residential Properties and commercial, for the purchase and installation of drip irrigation, the use of water-efficient plants, the conversion of turf, rain sensors, etc. Taking advantage of the discounts saves even more money and water for the sake of the Gallatin.
To top it all off, taking our Trout-Friendly Pledge reinforces your commitment to keeping water in our rivers, our high flows, and meets our goal of being more drought resistant and sustainable use of water by our community.
If you have questions, need more resources, want to apply for rebates, or want to dig into your own water-efficient landscaping, you can visit gallatinrivertaskforce.org/water-conservation. And remember, every drop counts.
Marne Hayes is communications manager for the Gallatin River Task Force.