Water Conservation

Experts seek to educate the public on water conservation

Experts seek to educate the public on water conservation

Photo credit: Paul B. Southerland

By Henry Dolive, For The Oklahoman


With global scientists predicting hotter, longer summers, more frequent heat waves and less rainfall, a water rationing plan in effect in Oklahoma City could become even more stringent with intensified drought.

Whether these developments signal permanent climate change or a temporary drought, officials and educators concerned about conserving water are seeking to educate the public on several levels.

They also coincide with the recent opening of a 1/2-acre water conservation demonstration garden at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City’s Horticulture Center, 400 N Portland.

The garden, sponsored by OSU’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, the city of Oklahoma City Utilities Department and the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, is designed to showcase for home gardeners the plants that will grow best in a hotter, drier climate than previously experienced here, as well as recently developed irrigation techniques.

Rains over the Memorial Day weekend added just 1 percent to Oklahoma City lake levels, said Kristy Yager, the city’s public information officer.

“That’s disappointing,” she said, adding that the rainfall brought the water level in Lake Hefner up only 8 inches, leaving the lake still 8.3 feet low.

“We are still asking people to be aware of the need to conserve water and to turn off their sprinklers. People need to continue being water conscious right now,” Yager said. “We are still in stage 1 water rationing, and we could go to stage 2 this summer.”

Recent rains aside, “We’re going through a dry period. It’s common for Oklahoma to do this,” said Dr. Justin Moss, assistant professor in OSU’s Horticulture Department, who helped oversee development of the demonstration garden. “But water conservation is what we (need to) do all the time. We want people to think about how they use water in their home, indoors and outdoors.”

Moss said plants seen in the garden can be purchased locally. Additional information about care and watering requirements of the plants displayed in the garden can be obtained from the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.

In addition to showing off plants home gardeners can count on to do well in relatively dry, hot climates, the garden contains a special irrigation demonstration area where state-of-the-art techniques such as using rain sensors and programmable timers can be seen in action, said Debbie Ragan, public information and marketing manager for the city of Oklahoma City.

“We want people to think about their irrigation systems they’re using,” Ragan said.

She said city officials sought the partnership with OSU in order to educate the public on maintaining beautiful yards and conserving water at the same time.

“The garden will provide lots of good information on how we can be a water conserving society and still have beautiful yards,” Ragan said. “It’s just helping people learn a different way of gardening.”

The opening of the garden happened to come on the heels of the release earlier this month of a White House report that predicted hotter, drier conditions in the Great Plains within the next few decades as a result of global climate change.

The report said residents should expect hotter, drier conditions as the effects of climate change begin to intensify.

During spring and summer months, the demonstration garden will be used in conjunction with educational workshops that will show the types of plants most suitable for the central Oklahoma climate, said Shawna McWaters-Khalousi, Agriculture Technologies division head at OSU-OKC.

“This garden can also be a launching point for other things people can learn to do to conserve water,” McWaters-Khalousi said.

“People can get a hands-on look at what you can do.”

Malarie Gotcher, OSU Cooperative Extension associate, said the garden will showcase close to 60 varieties of drought-tolerant plants, and will demonstrate options other than traditional cactus plants that homeowners can incorporate into their own landscaping.

They will include ornamental grasses and turf grass, annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees, she said.

A section of the garden has been set aside to display plants that are native to Oklahoma, Gotcher said.

A number of native flowers and grasses are displayed in the garden, such as black-eyed Susan and big blue stem, as well as other plants that grow well in Oklahoma, such as santolina and Russian sage, Gotcher said.

“Plants add value to the home, provide shade and elevate mood, but they also require water,” she said.

“Maximizing water use efficiency and making every drop count is important for the longevity of our water sources. We’re really excited to have a resource available for homeowners that shows a low-water-use landscape as an attractive option to our traditional lawns.”

McWaters-Khalousi urged the public to take a self-guided tour of the demonstration garden and to take advantage of the various workshops and classes that will be offered in upcoming months.

“We will maintain this garden for use all the time,” she said.