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Who in their right mind thinks of planning for winter in July? In my own career, I’ve learned by experience and from other professionals to consider July 5th the start of the winter planning season. For some “snow only” firms throughout North America, July might be considered a late start preparing for the next winter season. But, whether you are a “snow only” operator or a landscape or turf management company providing snow and ice services to a subset of your clientele, the standards for resource procurement, training, and preparation are the same.
(Photo: Getty Images)
The Snow & Ice Management Association (SIMA) has developed a timeline for winter operations, and their clients—typically facility managers and property managers. Utilizing this timeline (see opposite page) as an industry standard will help you to organize your sales and operational responsibilities into categories of focus.
Setting Up Sales
Renewals of existing contracts are best to initiate at the tail end of the existing snow season. Yes, a common reason for not doing this is: “My clients don’t want to talk about snow until later in the summer or in the fall.” This then gets pushed till the beginning of the next season. My experience has been when you initiate the renewal process at the end of the current season and give clients an incentive for renewing during that time period, more often than not it’s what the client wants. You simply need to have the confidence to do this.
RFPs (requests for proposals) are normally sent out by facility managers and property managers between late summer and early fall—and oftentimes much later. If there are properties you know you want the opportunity to bid, be confident to ask for the RFP rather than wait for it.
Contract award dates have been a concern for years. Of particular concern is the quantity of late awarded or renewed contracts that require weeks, if not months, worth of preparation to properly equip the property and remain price competitive. Although snow and ice service providers have become accustomed to allowing clients dictate when award decisions are made, it is the industry’s responsibility to educate clients who may not understand the supply side economics of a snow and ice management business.
(Chart: provided by Snow & Ice Management Association (SIMA))
Workforce recruiting is by far the number one concern for a winter services operation. Recruiting now for the upcoming winter season is a critical step. Be creative about where you are advertising available positions. Try to think beyond typical means, including partnering up with other part-time industries. Think about it. Many times, when we are busiest during a snowstorm event, other industries take the day off, and these include roofing, car washes, and other exterior service industries. And there are other professional industries that work shift schedules. These professionals are often looking for means of supplementing their income. Some of the professions to think about engaging with for part-time team members include: fire and rescue, corrections, law enforcement, and security professionals.
Materials acquisition and inventory are pre-season processes and investments that are paramount to any snow and ice management operation. All too often snow and ice contractors either wait until the beginning of the season, or they order as needed. In either case, you are paying a premium price for materials, and negatively contributing to the supply and demand chain. When you don’t “pre-order” your projected annual salt inventory, you are causing “salt shortages” as have occurred in several places throughout North America in the past decade, including the 2018-19 season.
Equipment purchasing and rental agreements are best completed mid-July through mid-August to allow plenty of time for supply chain to accommodate your needs and remain price competitive. Similar to the materials acquisition process, there is an appropriate lead time for ordering, producing, repairing, or upfitting equipment that fits within the different time constraints and requirements of the supply chain.
Measuring and tracking your materials usage and productivity is an opportunity that only a small percentage of members of the snow and ice management industry is taking advantage of. By measuring, not only will you find waste in material usage and snow plowing operation, the fact you are measuring your results will enable you to find the gaps of improvement opportunities. GPS time tracking and salt application tracking are the two most basic items that need to be measured and always present room for improvement.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Furthermore, there are methods and technology that allow you to automate tracking and documenting your level of service (LOS) that includes real time and historical pictures and site conditions. This level of measuring then furthers the ability to automate and improve the accuracy of your service verification process.
Sustainable Winter Management (SWiM®)
As an industry, we need to be keenly aware that what we do operationally causes unintended consequence, both economically and environmentally. While we have a responsibility to manage snow and ice conditions, as professionals we are equally responsible to understand how our efforts impact clients’ budgets.
Furthermore, managing snow and ice conditions can negatively affect the environment. What I’m speaking to mostly is our use of salt. How we use salt and how much of it we use impacts not only the financial picture, but also the environment due to the fact that salt may pollute freshwater resources as a result of non-point source runoff.
Regulation of road salt application is already being proposed throughout several areas of the country, particularly in the Great Lakes region of North America. Several more regions already offer voluntary salt application training programs. Within the next five to 10 years, it’s likely voluntary and/or required training will exist in most states where road salt use is more common and where salt pollution of freshwater resources have been identified at an urgent level.
Guidelines are available to help contractors or property owners and municipalities adopt and follow a Sustainable Winter Management (SWiM®) program. SWiM includes policies that enable standards of practice including: measuring, calibration, prevention, analysis, improvement and optimization.
Sexton is founder and managing director of WIT Advisers and industry adviser to the Snow & Ice Management Association (SIMA). WIT Advisers administers the Sustainable Winter Management (SWiM) program and certifications for properties. Sexton also serves as adjunct professor at the Center of Agriculture and Natural Resources of the State University of New York (SUNY) at Cobleskill. He holds degrees in agriculture, horticulture, and business economics from the State University of NY and a master’s degree in Sustainability from Harvard University where he focused his studies on corporate innovation and sustainability and researching salt use by the winter management industry.
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LeakTronics, the industry leading leak detection equipment manufacturer now offers a leak detection kit designed specifically for the needs of the irrigation and landscape industries. The tools in the kit positively identify pipe leaks under soil and concrete, pipe mapping and tracing and accurately pinpoint the location of leaks to minimize invasive repair damage. The kit is available directly on the LeakTronics website.
Irrigation primarily features underground plumbing that is laid in patterns with ninety degree turns and routing that keeps pipes from running straight between two points. The first issue irrigation and landscape professionals have is mapping the route of the plumbing to see where the pipes lay. To solve this problem, LeakTronics has included the Pulse Generator in the Irrigation Leak Detection Kit. Unlike copper and metal pipes, PVC and plastic pipes, most common to the irrigation industry, do not carry an electrical charge and therefore, cannot be identified underground by traditional means.
LeakTronics Leak Detection Kit
With the Pulse Generator, the technician attaches the device to an active spigot on the waterline and simply runs the water through it. A series of valves inside the device generate a pulsing action and deliver vibrations throughout the plumbing line and can be detected for literally thousands of feet. The included stand pipe and damper hose allow the user to adjust flow and apply a gentler or more vigorous tapping throughout the system. Instructions are included and how-to videos are available through the LeakTronics website.
With the listening devices inside the LeakTronics Irrigation Kit, technicians can map and trace the route of plumbing lines and use flags, or other methods, to mark where the pipes are routed. This will allow them to listen directly to the pipes for areas where leaks occur.
Once the technician is able to follow the routing of the pipes, the included Pressure Rig in the Irrigation Kit allows the user to inject air and water into the lines. The combination of these two elements creates a boiling sound at the location of the leak. being able to hear this sound tells the technician where the pipe break is and precisely where they will have to dig to make the repair. Using this method, landscaping and concrete that have to be dig up or removed are done so on a minimal basis. by being able to accurately specify where the leak is, digging the length of a line to find the pipe leak becomes unnecessary. The repair technician can open the surface area directly above the leak and spend less time and cost making repairs to the soil or the concrete area they’ve dug through. it saves both time and money.
Also included in the kit is the multi-functional Soil Probe. Using the probe, technicians are able to listen through soil with the ultra-sensitive pointed tip or by removing the tip and attaching the 3 inch listening disc, they can listen through concrete and solid surfaces with the same sensitivity. . As the sound increases to it’s loudest point, they will have found where the leak is and can make repairs.
The Irrigation Kit includes a combination of compression plugs and an injector plug that work with the Pressure Rig. Combined, all of the equipment in the kit offers resources that reduce time spent digging, damaging landscape or searching in an area where a pipe might not actually be leaking.
The Irrigation Kit comes complete at a $2300 price and includes a 2 year limited warranty and the trusted support of LeakTronics customer service. For answers to questions at any time, instruction on use or recommendations for best methods of use on the job, Irrigation professionals just need to call LeakTronics for help.
The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) released a new online video featuring footage captured by GoPro cameras shot from the equipment operator’s point of view to show what it’s really like to use a propane commercial mower. PERC is a nonprofit that provides propane safety and training programs and invests in research and development of new propane-powered technologies. PERC is operated and funded by the propane industry.
“We were looking for a fun way to show equipment fleet managers, department directors, and professional landscapers what it’s really like to operate with propane,” says Jeremy Wishart, PERC director of off-road business development. “These first-hand accounts are really incredible and we hope the video can serve as a virtual demonstration to those who might be considering a move to commercial propane mowers.” Read more at FacilityExecutive.com.
Landing a large commercial account is at the top of many landscapers’ wish lists. But transitioning into the commercial landscaping market requires more than buying larger mowers and trucks. You have to change the way you and your team manage projects to truly be successful.
Before jumping into commercial landscape work, do your homework. Compared to residential work, “it’s a totally different animal,” says Gib Durden, vice president of business development at HighGrove Partners in Austell, GA. “It’s still cutting grass, pruning, and planting flowers, but commercial landscaping is a totally different mindset.”
Switching between commercial and residential work can be difficult. “Don’t try intermingling the same guys doing commercial and residential work,” says Jim Schill, vice president of Schill Grounds Management in North Ridgeville, OH.
One major variant is that you rarely deal with the owner in commercial work. The point of contact is probably not the decision-maker and could be replaced at any time, says Terry Delany, president of ServFM in Fayetteville, AK.
Profit margins are typically lower with commercial, but these are counter-weighted by higher contract dollar amounts. It’s a low-margin, high-quantity set-up, Delany says.
Finding New Accounts
Find out if existing residential clients have any connections to commercial accounts. “A lot of the time, if you’re new to the business, it might take time to gain traction,” Durden says. “Start small, and start working on that.”
When trying to identify prospective accounts, look for locally owned places. “These are the best because you often have a chance to deal directly with the owner,” Delany says. You can also try to find properties that have the highest up-sale potential. Once you decide on the type of business you’d like to approach, gather information on all of these in your service area, Delany says. Create a pamphlet aimed at that market, and start visiting the properties. “We offer to bring lunch by for the office staff,” Delany adds. “That nearly always gets us in the door.”
A big part of finding accounts is connecting with the right people. “Cold calls and emails don’t work that well,” Durden says. Instead, he says attending community events or meetings allows you to talk directly with property managers. “Then, if you follow up with a call, it’s a warm call.”
There are also organizations that can put you in contact with the decision makers. Durden suggests getting involved with real estate groups, such as Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW). Another organization he recommends is Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International.
Chamber of Commerce meetings, CEO forums, and other networking events are also good places to meet potential clients. “Build your sphere of influence, and the world gets much smaller,” Delany says.
After you’ve laid the groundwork, turn your attention to the bidding process. “If you’re bidding commercial maintenance and landscaping jobs like you bid residential, you won’t get the work,” Schill says. “Most commercial accounts are chasing the bottom dollar.” It’s very important to have a good grasp on every aspect and expense of your business.
“You’re better off trying to take the scientific approach,” Durden says. That includes taking good field measurements and knowing the number of man-hours the task will require.
“It costs time and money to put a bid in on a property, so make sure you truly understand the specs and the client’s expectations,” Schill says.
When working on a contract, Delany says to add a clause giving you the right to pause work until you get paid. “If you don’t have that in your contract and you stop working, you’ve breached it first,” he explains.
One of the main numbers to look at when bidding commercial lawn maintenance and landscaping jobs is your profit. “Since all landscape contractors are paying approximately the same amount for trucks, mowers, labor, overhead, and fuel, the deciding factor is often how much profit do you want/need to make on this job,” Delany says.
Here are questions he suggests asking yourself when deciding how much profit to add to your bid: How many competitors are submitting proposals? Which competitors are they, and how do they usually price work? Was this a cold call or warm referral? What is your financial position as a company right now? Do you need to buy new equipment or hire more employees to add this maintenance contract to your book of work? What are the up-sale potentials? Who will be your contact if you land the account? How long has this potential account been in business? Does the individual or committee have any landscape knowledge? How often does the account switch landscape contractors?
Avoid These Pitfalls
When you’re first starting out, it may be tempting to “buy” a job to get a foothold with an account. But, that’s a lose-lose situation. Stick to your set profit margins. You also have to educate your employees. Just because your sales team is good at landing residential accounts doesn’t mean they’ll be as successful in the commercial sector.
Commercial lawn accounts and landscaping contracts can bring in large checks, but make sure your business isn’t too dependent on one account, or property type. “You don’t want to have all of your eggs in one basket,” Schill says.
With the right preparation, you can make commercial accounts a profitable part of your landscaping company. “If you have the patience and are willing to deal with slow payments and losing/replacing large accounts,” Delany says, “go commercial.”
Landscape Leadership is a sales and marketing agency specializing exclusively in lawn, landscaping, and tree service companies.
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If you’re a landscape contractor looking to extend your revenue stream, then you might be considering municipal and other government contracts. However, even if you’re an experienced commercial landscape professional it’s important to recognize that this line of work can be quite different.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Before transitioning into municipal/government work, you must first determine if you even qualify for it. According to industry consultant Fred Haskett, head harvester with The Harvest Group, municipalities, as well as state and federal agencies, often have a very clear set of specifications that a landscape company must be able to meet in order to qualify for the work. Bonding is usually part of that process and may require you to consult with legal and financial advisors. Surety bonds guarantee that your company will live up to its contract and legal obligations.
Another key difference with municipality work is that it often requires adhering to prevailing wage, something that many landscape contractors are not accustomed to doing. Prevailing wage is defined as the hourly wage, usual benefits, and overtime, paid in the largest city in each county, to the majority of workers. Prevailing wages are established by regulatory agencies for each trade and occupation employed in the performance of public work, as well as by State Departments of Labor or equivalents.
“Oftentimes, the government sets these jobs at a prevailing wage that is significantly higher than what local jobs are bidding out at,” Haskett says. “If you understand prevailing wage and are prepared for it, it’s not a problem. But if you don’t, it can be a trap. You must agree to let the government audit your payroll, and you don’t want to be caught not adhering to prevailing wage.”
Haskett says that you’ll want to consider how prevailing wage might impact paying your crews going forward. If they’re going to get what they view as a “raise” for municipal work, are they going to struggle with returning to their “regular salary” for other jobs? And will other crews not on that job hear through the grapevine that they’re making less? Haskett says he has seen these scenarios play out, and landscape business owners must be prepared with answers.
For Bill Horn, east branch manager for Gachina Landscape Management in Menlo Park, CA, the answer has always been “transparency.” Horn has many years of experience estimating, negotiating, staffing, and performing on municipal work ranging from $100,000 per year to $3 million per year with Gachina as well as for a previous employer. He says that trying to obscure the fact that municipal jobs mean crews on those jobs get paid more will ultimately backfire.
He also says that having crews specially designated for municipal work can keep the entire process smoother.
“Instead of flip-flopping crews back and forth between municipal and standard commercial work, we have always had designated crews,” Horn says. “There was an understanding that their trade craft—usually trades like heavy equipment operators or pipe fitters—were ones that paid higher prevailing wages. I don’t think there have been hard feelings when it’s usually understood that specialty trades naturally make more money.”
A Close Eye
Whether it’s payroll audits or just a close eye on operations, Haskett says to be prepared to be “under scrutiny.”
(Photo: Getty Images)
“Public works contracts, in particular, have a lot of audits and inspections as well as penalty clauses stating if you miss a deadline or score below a quality level upon inspection that they can perform deductions from your bill,” Haskett says. “I’ve seen companies get burned on this. You send out a bill for $14,000 and they pay you $7,000 because they say you missed two completion deadlines—even though perhaps it rained. You must be very aware of the language in the contract.”
Ben Carruthers, owner of Carruthers Landscape Management Inc., in Dallas, TX, says that performing municipal work is “like having a big magnifying glass on you.”
“You need to be sure you’re set up to handle it correctly,” he says. “There is a very small margin for error.”
Carruthers says that his company got into municipal work about 20 years ago on a small scale and grew it very slowly—which he recommends is the way to go. Make sure you have a good grasp on what’s required and whether you like the work before you start bidding on too many jobs, he adds.
“If you have performed commercial contracting for large clients then it’s going to be more familiar to you and an easier transition,” he adds. “That’s really the only way to do it because most municipal contracts are going to want to see you’ve done work like this before. If you are bidding on a $2 million municipal job, you’re going to need evidence that you’ve handled a $2 million commercial account and that you’re up to the task.”
Horn agrees and says that references are a big deal.
“You can be sure they are going to pursue your references—they want to see that you’ve done comparable work and done it successfully,” Horn says. “They’ll also find out where you’ve worked, even if you don’t include it. It’s best not to try to omit information. If you had a bad experience with a former client, it’s best to be upfront and tell them why so that they hear your side of the story first.”
Your safety record will also be reviewed, adds Horn. A poor record could easily disqualify you from a municipal job—where exposing the general public to any risk is a concern.
Going After Municipal Contracts
While there are clearly a lot of factors to address before making the leap into municipal, Haskett says that for landscape contractors who are “set up to handle it,” these contracts can be quite profitable. He says that RFPs (or, Request for Proposals) are public information. Therefore, you could call local or state entities and ask for their ground maintenance department. If you qualify, they are required to place you on the bid list, says Haskett. But you must ask to be placed there.
Horn’s best advice for contractors going after municipal work is to look for opportunities where you can negotiate—not those where they have historically gone with the low bid. “We cannot compete in the low bid arena, nor do we want to,” he adds. “Fortunately, the cities we have worked with have come to recognize that type of bidding is not good for anyone.”
Once you put your hat in the ring, Horn also advises to be prepared for an extensive interview process. You’ll have to sit in front of a panel and be able to represent your company—and know the client—extremely well, in order to remain a serious contender.
“Know the site, know your business, and make positive personal connections with the people you’re sitting with,” Horn says. “You must be able to establish those connections almost immediately. We set up a mock interview with our team and throw the hard questions at them. We commit a lot of time to rehearsing but it is better to be overprepared than underprepared. When it comes to this line of work, you must always put your best foot forward. It’s great work and it’s long-term work—if you do it right.
Getz is an award winning freelance writer based in Royersford, PA.
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Curtis Industries, LLC manufacturer of cab enclosures, attachments and accessories for compact vehicles, has announced the release of its cab system for the Mahindra 1626 compact tractor. The cab fits the 1626 HST OS and 1626 Shuttle. It retails at $3,312.00 and includes a 12-volt heavy-duty front wiper and cab heater. Curtis Industries, LLC, an ISO 9001 certified company, is a designer and manufacturer of compact vehicle cab enclosure systems, attachments, and related accessories aimed at enhancing user comfort and productivity.
The frame, doors, and roof of the new cab system are constructed of corrosion-resistant powder-coat commercial grade steel. The steel roof overhangs both the doors and the windshield for weather protection. The Curtis cab is color matched Mahindra red for factory look.
The cab features the Curtis exclusive clear poly cowl providing exceptional forward visibility of loader arms, hoses, and bucket. The Curtis cab is also backhoe compatible.
The windshield and rear glass panel open for venting. Doors and rear panel are pin hinged to lift out quickly, making it ideal for open air operation in warmer weather. Doors are assisted with gas shocks for smooth opening and better control in windy conditions.
The Curtis cab height is 60 inches floorboard to roof, below the vehicle Rollover Protective Structure (ROPS), allowing the vehicle to clear low obstructions and fit in most standard garages.
In addition to standard features Curtis accessories such as roof mount LED strobe and work lights, rear work lights, mirrors, dome light, rear wiper, and seal kit are available options.
The cab is sold exclusively through Curtis/Mahindra dealers.
Real Green Systems, a Detroit-based field service software company and a member of the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), joins forces today, July 15, with hundreds of lawn and landscape professionals from across the country to volunteer at Renewal & Remembrance, organized by the NALP. This is an annual day of service at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA. The event marks the 23rd year that industry professionals have come together to help enhance the national burial site. Arlington National Cemetery serves as the final resting spot for more than 400,000 military service men/women and their spouses.
Image: National Association of Landscape Professionals
This year, more than 400 professionals — including three employees from Real Green Systems — will volunteer their time. The volunteer activities include: mulching, upgrading sprinklers, cabling and installing lightning protection for the trees, pruning, and planting liming. In total, NALP members will help to enhance more than 200 acres of the vast grounds at Arlington National Cemetery. Volunteering will also take place in parts of Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemeteries.
“Our industry is proud and humbled to volunteer our services at Arlington National Cemetery every year,” said Carol Keeling, interim CEO for NALP. “While the cemetery is beautifully maintained all year long, it is an honor for our industry professionals to lend their expertise and skills to enhancing the grounds. This service event allows the lawn and landscape industry to honor our nation’s heroes and put our professional knowledge and skills to work for good.”
Members of the National Hispanic Landscape Alliance and the Professional Grounds Management Society will join NALP members.
Herbicides and algaecides have traditionally been used to maintain balanced ecosystems in lakes and ponds—but wouldn’t it be exciting if there was a new technology or process that could totally revolutionize the way we approach environmental problems around our lawns and golf courses? Industry leaders have long understood that proactive, holistic management strategies are the key to achieve long-term balance in our aquatic environments; however, our toolbox of sustainable solutions has not always grown at the same pace as our knowledge. That’s why we are so excited about recent advances in aquatic habitat restoration.
EPA-registered herbicides and algaecides are generally only used as a last resort solution—but sometimes they are necessary and valuable tools. Just as you might take an antibiotic to recover from an infection, pesticides help your waterbody recover from nuisance and sometimes harmful aquatic weed infestations. Now, new herbicide technologies are optimizing the safe eradication of undesirable plant species with very limited impact on native vegetation, wildlife or recreational activity. These highly-targeted herbicides combine the best features of traditional options to target the unique growth processes in undesirable aquatic weeds and achieve more selective and long-lasting vegetation control. Thanks to their favorable environmental profile, they require 100-1000x lower use rates than traditional herbicides and have been designated by the EPA as a “Reduced Risk” solution that is virtually non-toxic to humans, pets and wildlife.
After Selective Herbicides
Before Selective Herbicides
Reduced Risk herbicides can be highly successful for the management of many species and may provide exceptional multi-season control when applied by specially certified professionals at the appropriate growth stage and dosing rate. Properties suffering from chronic milfoil species, hydrilla, crested floating heart, watershield, parrotfeather, creeping primrose, slender spike rush, yellow floating heart and similar species are excellent candidates for management with these highly-selective, low-impact herbicides.
For any new technology, it is important to evaluate its niche within our “toolbox” and to understand the best fit among the available water quality management strategies. There are many factors to consider when developing a comprehensive aquatic resource management plan, such as the target weed or algae species, the presence of beneficial native vegetation, and the goals and budget of the stakeholders. While reduced risk herbicides offer a new and exciting option for our clients with severe nuisance or invasive aquatic weed issues, it’s important to establish long-term control by addressing the true root of the problem: unbalanced water quality.
Nutrient Remediation “Bags”
Water quality restoration is one of the most frequent and important challenges that we face as lake and pond managers, and should be a high priority for every waterbody. Poor water quality due to nutrient loading is a constant issue, as runoff containing fertilizers and other pollutants from agricultural farm fields, suburban lawns and gardens, and urban streets and parking lots drains into lakes, ponds, and stormwater management facilities. Even natural areas can contribute to water quality degradation through the deposition of sediment, leaf debris and other organic matter to our waterways. These pollutants are the ultimate source of nuisance lake and pond weeds, harmful cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms and other complications that impair waterbodies for municipal and recreational uses, and may also make them less habitable for fish and other wildlife.
As a golf course superintendent or property manager, you may have already implemented numerous aquatic management tools such as aeration and nanobubble technology, biological augmentation, nutrient remediation, and innovative sediment and vegetation removal techniques such as bioengineered shorelines and hydro-raking. Another new technology for the sustainable removal of nutrients and other pollutants is generating excitement within our industry. Similar to activated charcoal, this new technology has highly adsorbent properties that allow it to remove impurities from water. These charcoal-like particles can be placed in large, porous bags in moving water, and the particles will attract and trap nutrients, metals and other pollutants. The bags are then removed from the water when they are full, resulting in the physical elimination of the trapped material from the waterbody. The contacts of the bag can be discarded, or better yet, used strategically as a soil amendment for natural fertilization and as a substrate for beneficial microbes to enhance plant growth.
This new technology is most effective in flowing waterbodies so that there is constant circulation of water around the socks for nutrient adsorption. More stagnant basins would benefit from the installation of a fountain or aeration system to move the water and enhance the effectiveness of this method. The number and size of the socks required is also site-specific, and the longevity of the socks could be several weeks up to an entire season depending on the severity of water quality impairment.
The increasing problems of anthropogenic and climatological water quality degradation have brought us to a critical time in the pond and lake management industry, but new technologies like these are making the management of aquatic resources easier and more sustainable than ever. When implementing any sort of aquatic weed or water quality solution for your waterbody, it’s extremely valuable to consult with an aquatic biologist or ecologist who is on the leading edge for innovative solutions to age-old challenges. Your greens — and your long-term budget — will thank you.
Junior is an Aquatic Ecologist at SOLitude Lake Management, an industry-leading environmental firm. She specializes in all facets of lake management, with a specific expertise in ecological assessment and restoration. Shannon has Master of Science degree in Environmental Science and Public Policy from George Mason University. This article is the third in a series featuring new break-through technologies that will revolutionize the management of lakes, stormwater ponds, wetlands and fisheries in 2019.
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From financial pundits to environmentalists, most seem to agree that water, particularly in its use, management, and distribution, is the new gold. Water scarcity is the fourth global risk in terms of impact to society, reports the World Economic Forum. While the situation can be one of life and death in Sub-Saharan Africa, the United States is not immune to water issues. Just ask those in Flint, MI or California.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Unfortunately, the problem isn’t likely to go away anytime soon and will likely become more widespread. The Union of Concerned Scientists predicts that while some wet and warmer areas may experience heavier precipitation in the future, the periods between rains are likely to become longer, warmer, and drier. Scientists also expect the amount of land affected by drought to increase by mid-century—and water resources in affected areas to decline as much as 30%. In other words, dry areas will get drier.
With landscape irrigation accounting for most of the nearly nine billion gallons of water used by U.S. residences outdoor daily, it surpasses the amount of water used for showering and washing clothes combined, according to the U.S. EPA’s WaterSense program. And in a facility, landscaping water usage can easily account for 20% or more of water consumption, according to the Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG), a program of the National Institute of Building Sciences. Thus, landscapes, especially those with thirsty turfgrass, are increasingly becoming a key target for water conservation.
California Water Laws
None of this is news to Californian landscapers who experienced the worst drought in the state’s history from December 2011 to March 2017. Moderate drought persisted until a wet winter this year alleviated conditions, though some parts of Southern California were still deemed “abnormally dry” as recently as this past March. By April of 2015, in reaction to the ongoing drought, former Governor Jerry Brown had imposed a 25% reduction in water usage, stating “The idea of your nice little green lawn getting watered every day, those days are past.”
As a result, in July of 2015, the California Water Commission issued an updated Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (MWELO), designed to help reduce the amount of water used for landscape irrigation. Under the 2015 rules, which still apply today:
Turfgrass is limited to 25% of all landscaped areas in newly constructed homes with more than 500 square feet of landscaped area.
Renovations to existing outdoor areas with more than 2,500 square feet of landscaping must also comply to regulations.
Grass is “effectively” banned in landscapes of new commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings.
Efficient sprinkler nozzles must be used in irrigation systems; turf in street medians is mostly banned; and the use of recycled water is encouraged.
“This is another giant leap forward in responsible water use,” Esther Margulies, an instructor in the landscape architecture program at USC, told the LA Times in a July 15 article at the time. “This means people will have to get to know their California-friendly plants. They’re going to have to think more specifically about the open space around their houses.… There’s no debate: The lawn will continue to shrink.”
Last year, California took it farther, with tough, new permanent water conservation rules. SB606 and AB1668 require water districts to set targets for water use by 2022, including a daily allowance of 55 gallons per person for indoor water use, and outdoor water allowances based on regional differences in climate. “In preparation for the next drought and our changing environment, we must use our precious resources wisely,” Brown said in a statement. So though California’s immediate water crisis may have had a reprieve, authorities know that challenges lie ahead, especially with a growing population.
Existing laws, evolving ones, and differences within local jurisdictions have made water usage and management a key consideration for California landscape contractors. As the rest of the nation faces increasing pressure to preserve resources, what can we learn from California laws and practices?
For one, the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA) has embraced what it calls the “new normal.” Practices within the new normal include:
reduced outdoor irrigation;
abatement of dry-season runoff;
rainwater capture and storage;
stormwater reduction and capture;
reduced pesticide application and runoff;
reduced energy use and greenhouse
gas emissions; and
provision of food and habitat for beneficial insects and wildlife.
How is this achieved? Under MWELO, it starts with a signed “Landscape Documentation Package” at the design phase. “Whatever the landscape type or style, CLCA members know the key to landscape water conservation is water-efficient design, installation, and management. A water-efficient landscape design ideally includes a Grading Plan, Landscape Plan, and Irrigation plan as described in the state’s MWELO. This design should be accompanied by a Water Budget,” says CLCA.
So yes, on a basic level, reduce turfgrass and plant natives, but you also need to do the math. The Water Budget involves calculating such data as the Maximum Applied Water Allowance (MAWA) and the Estimated Total Water Use (ETWU). Even plant selection under MWELO is a calculation based on the plant’s water needs relative to ETo, the evapotranspiration (ET) rate for a cool season lawn. (MWELO requires that the water budget for a landscape equals not more than 55% of ETo for most residential projects.)
If this all sounds a bit confusing, it’s why groups such as CLCA offer courses on Mastering Model Water Efficient Landscapes (MWEL) as well as a CLCA Certified Water Manager program. The good news is that water use and efficiencies, once an educated guessing game, are becoming quantifiable.
The Watershed Approach
And more landscape water-related bills are still under discussion. SB 780: Water Conservation in Landscaping Act deals largely with promoting a concept gaining momentum in California—the Watershed Approach to landscaping. It’s a developing model that considers every garden, regardless of size or location, as though it were a mini-watershed. In a healthy balanced watershed, rainwater passes through plants and soil before moving into local waterways or returning to the sky. The plants and soil make a huge sponge and filter for the rainwater, holding onto or cleaning all the water that falls onto it.
The Watershed Approach was developed by G3, Green Gardens Group in Los Angeles, CA, a group of landscape professionals dedicated to creating, promoting, and educating about sustainable landscapes. In fact, G3’s development of the Watershed Wise Landscape Professional (WWLP) designation earned EPA’s 2017 WaterSense Professional Certifying Organization Partner of the Year.
Pamela Berstler, CEO and co-founder of G3 and a former licensed landscape design/build contractor, has also received personal accolades for her work in sustainable landscaping and the Watershed Approach.
“The fundamental rule for CA landscapers is: thou shalt not waste water. MWELO addresses the efficiency of the landscape system’s use of [irrigation]… we’re waking up to the idea that water budgeting is the only way we can achieve conservation,” says Berstler. But what’s not addressed in MWELO, she says, is how the landscape holds and retains rainwater. “We do active rainwater harvesting for later use through cisterns and rain barrels, but we realized that a landscape itself can give us a greater capacity for passive capture. And we end up solving common problems like polluted runoff… the landscape itself is the cistern…that is a shift for a lot of people.”
These are four key elements to the Watershed Approach: 1) Build healthy, living soil; 2) Capture rainwater as a resource; 3) Select local, climate-appropriate plants and 4) Use highly efficient irrigation only when necessary. Here are some basics.
Soil. Build up carbon in the soil with compost or worm casings, and mulch heavily with mixed leaf and wood mulch. Nurturing microbes, fungi, and macroarthopods will create spongey soil to absorb rainwater.
Capture rainwater. Every hard surface generates valuable rainwater for a landscape. For instance, a 1,000 square foot roof provides 620 gallons of water for every 1″ of rain. By using meandering landscape depressions (under 12″ in many cases) filled with mulch or other organic material, water is channeled through the landscape and filtered to the actual root zone of plants. This contouring helps retain and maximize rainwater rather than having it runoff to the street. “There should be no such thing as a flat yard,” says Berstler. “This is how it works out in nature.”
Select native plants. While this principle is well known, the aforementioned MWELO calculations for plant factors grounds the idea in specific numbers for a water budget.
Highly efficient irrigation, only when necessary. Try not to use supplemental water for irrigation, but when necessary, use drip or rotating sprinkler nozzles and smart (or WaterSense labeled) controllers with rain or soil moisture sensors. Run times and pressure should be optimized. Reduce water waste (dry weather runoff and overspray) by observing when water runs off the property and adjusting the irrigation controller to cycle multiple short run times with 30 to 60 minute soak times between.
Permeable surfaces, aerating soil, and rain gardens are also effective practices within the Watershed Approach. Recycling graywater (the relatively clean waste water from baths, sinks, washing machines, and other appliances) is also being talked about in California, and while Berstler embraces this as a highly efficient means of supplemental irrigation, she emphasizes that the Watershed Approach is really about trying to avoid the need for extra water in the landscape.
And it seems to be catching on. Watershed Approach principles have been adopted into guidelines to qualify for turf replacement rebates through the Metropolitan Water District (www.bewaterwise.com), says Berstler. While turf replacement is key in California, Berstler points out that the Watershed Approach is not necessarily anti-turf. “There are many climates where turf is appropriate. The Watershed Approach is a set of principles, not a dogma. It needs to be appropriate for every place,” she says.
In the meantime, sustainable and water wise landscape education within California and beyond is ongoing. “Most people appreciate the beauty of a landscape, but an understanding of it as a piece of the environment is sometimes missing,” says Berstler. “Landscaping is becoming a thinking person’s business and that excites me.”
Menapace is a professional freelance writer and editor with over 25 years of experience in publishing, journalism, copywriting, and marketing.
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Contractors and organizations that have built water-saving and sustainable projects have a chance to be recognized with the Water & Sustainability Innovation Award this year.
Ewing Irrigation & Landscape Supply and Audubon International are now accepting nominations for the 2020 Water & Sustainability Innovation Award through Sept. 13, 2019. Audubon International is a not-for-profit environmental organization that creates environmentally sustainable environments where people live, work, and play. Ewing Irrigation & Landscape Supply is the largest family-owned supplier of landscape and water management products in the country. The company offers products and education for irrigation and landscape, turf and land management, outdoor living, sports fields, golf and sustainable solutions.
The winner of the 2020 Water & Sustainability Innovation Award will be brought to Phoenix in January for an award ceremony, and Ewing and Audubon will also produce a video about the winning project, among other prizes.
The Water & Sustainability Innovation Award was created by Ewing and Audubon to recognize projects including landscapes, parks and other green spaces that contribute to more sustainable communities with an emphasis on water efficiency.
There is no cost for submissions, but projects must have been supplied in part by Ewing to be eligible. The entry form and guidelines can be found at EwingIrrigation.com/award.
Corica Park South Course
The Water & Sustainability Innovation Award first launched in 2018, with the Corica Park South Course renovation in Alameda, Calif. selected as the first winning project. The golf course was completely renovated with an extensive storm water collection system, water-efficient sprinklers and climatically suited turfgrass and native plants, reducing water use by about 34 million gallons per year.
Two additional Awards of Distinction were also given to Katella High School in Anaheim, Calif. for its comprehensive storm water infiltration project, and to Jovial Concepts in Colorado which installed drip irrigation in 75 community garden beds saving an estimated 320,000 gallons of water per year.
“We hope to see even more nominations this year to shine a spotlight on the ways companies, municipalities and other organizations are improving sustainability in communities across the U.S.,” said Doug York, president of Ewing Irrigation.