Curtis Swift

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June 21, 2012
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SWIFT: Preparing your lawn, garden for drought

Everyone is concerned about the drought and what they can do to conserve water. Planning should have been implemented years ago to get ready for this drought. The domestic water providers have done just that by putting together a plan of cooperation to ensure their customers receive the water needed for household use.

Whether there will be enough water later in the season for lawns and gardens, however, is another issue. Proper soil preparation, the selection of the proper lawn grasses and using xeric plants to reduce water usage should have been a major consideration in your drought plan. Many property owners, however, neglected to consider the fact we live in a semi-arid region and will lose parts of their landscape as a result due to lack of planning.

Some locals attempt to cover up the lack of planning for this and future droughts by repeating the phrase: "It's our water and we should keep it." While this statement attempts to provide an excuse for lack of planning, this statement doesn't make any sense at all.

What does "It's our water and we should keep it" mean? Does it mean the rain and snow that falls in Mesa County should be collected, stored and used only in Mesa County? Or does it mean the river water that runs through Mesa County should be stored and used by Mesa County residents only?

If "It's our water and we should keep it" refers to keeping and using all the precipitation that falls within Mesa County, it makes no sense at all. Mesa County receives a yearly average of 10 inches of water in the form of rain and snow. Even if you could capture and store all that moisture, most of our crops, lawns, trees, flowers, shrubs, golf courses, etc. require 36 inches of water per year. Mesa County may not receive enough snow or rain to provide our household water needs let alone provide enough water for our crops and landscapes.

In addition if Mesa County decided to keep all the precipitation that fell within its boundaries and not let any of it go downstream, what would keep other counties from doing the same thing? That would put Mesa County in a real bind because most of the water used in Mesa County comes from snow and rain from other counties.

If "It's our water and we should keep it" refers to preventing all the water that flows down the Colorado and Gunnison rivers from going past the Utah border for our use only, where would we put it. I guess the DeBeque Canyon could be dammed up but the resulting reservoir would fill up quite fast. Some dreamers even envision a lake between I-70 and Mount Garfield. We could even pump the water in the Gunnison River and store it in the Mount Garfield reservoir. To capture all the water the reservoir would need to be the size of Lake Mead and Lake Powell combined. I haven't figured out the actual size of the reservoirs but I'm quite sure someone with a quicker calculator than mine could come up with the answer.

To get back to more logical thoughts why not simply do what you can to weather the drought. If your lawn is healthy it should be able to go without being watered for several months. Just turn off the irrigation zones for your turf. When water restrictions are lifted, get back on your regular watering schedule and the lawn will recover.

The worst thing you can do during this drought is to fertilize your lawn to attempt to keep it green. Fertilizing prior to or during a stress period puts the grass under even more stress. If your lawn has already started to go dormant before you can water again, let it go dormant. You will know when the lawn is starting to go dormant by the change in color and the limp or crunchy grass blades. When you water while your lawn is trying to go dormant it expends energy trying to recover. After several cycles of the lawn being forced back from its attempt to go dormant, a great deal of its energy reserves will be depleted. This will likely prevent the lawn from fully recovering once water restrictions are lifted and you are able to get back on a regular watering schedule. It is best to allow the lawn to go dormant.

Focus your water use on your trees, shrubs, and other plants you consider critical. The lawn can be quickly replaced but established trees and shrubs will take years to replace. Water the area within the drip line of your trees and shrubs but no more frequently than you have in the past as this can create long-term problems for those woody plants.

If you want more information on how to deal with the drought give the Colorado State University Extension office a call and ask for our "dealing with drought" information. That number is 970-244-1836.

Dr. Curtis E. Swift is the area horticulture agent with the CSU Extension. Reach him at, visit, or check out his blog at

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The Post Independent Updated Jun 21, 2012 04:14PM Published Jun 21, 2012 04:13PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.