A Water-Wise Industry

February 27, 2003 - 13:57

Editor's Report

Six months ago, when GPN ran a 3-part series on water
conservation, I had no idea it would lead to Salt Lake City, Utah. But here I
am, sitting in a cozy hotel room, watching the Raiders take a beating and
waiting for tomorrow's start of the Utah Green Conference. I've been invited to
speak for four hours about the Federal Clean Water Act, water conservation
measures and drought-tolerant plants. And while I'm a little nervous about
having to fill such a large chunk of time, I'm excited to see that people are
already preparing for what's ahead.

Because it is coming, drought, I mean. Long-range
predictions for the state of Utah, and for more than 30 other states, show
below- to significantly below-average rainfall. And that's on top of what, for
many states, has been a succession of two, three, even four dry years.

But the people of Utah are getting ready. Over half of the
sessions at the 3-day conference are focused on irrigation, water conservation
or other drought-preparation topics. And if what I saw earlier today is any
indication, attendees are really looking forward to these sessions. They're not
just here for the new variety or increasing profit topics that look so sexy in
brochures. My very dry, introductory talk has even been placed in a room that
seats 100 people, and organizers expect it to fill up.

Get Wacky

Are you wondering if their thin air at 4,000 feet has made
that group out there in Utah just a bit wacky? I hope not, but I have to admit
that I'm a little worried -- not that they're all wacky, but that the rest of
us are not wacky enough. That is, if being prepared is wacky.

Over the past few months, I've been in greenhouses from
Florida to Illinois, and I've seen lots of wasted water. Dripping microtubes,
thoroughly watered walkways and lots and lots of irrigation-water puddles. With
so much good, fresh water being so often wasted, I'm convinced that many
operations are contributing to water shortages.

Sound like your greenhouse? Don't worry, I won't tell, but
the time is quickly approaching when annual restrictions will be the least of
your problems. The Federal Clean Water Act will necessitate that everyone move
to closed irrigation systems and water-conscious municipalities will start
asking the hard questions of those they perceive as heavy water users.
"How much fresh water do you use each day for irrigation?" "What
water-saving measures do you have in place?" I know growers, outside of
California, that have already been asked these questions, and they didn't have
the answers. In front of state-level legislators who were ready to support
their position, they didn't have answers. When they left, they also didn't have
the special waiver they were seeking that would have exempted them from water

A Good Example

Take heart. My warnings aren't meant to discourage but to
motivate. And to prove it, I'll give you an example of what a well-informed,
proactive industry can accomplish. In preparing for my talk on water
conservation, I ran across some information about how Virginia's car wash
industry battled last year's water restrictions. We could take a lesson or two
from them.

In case you don't know, the drought in Virginia last summer
was the worst on record. Before it was over, cities across the state were
banning lawn and landscape watering, fleet washing and any other high water-usage
activities. Some green goods companies were even told not to maintain their
stock, but the self-serve car wash industry operated relatively untouched. The
difference? Long before restrictions were put into place, car wash owners and
industry representatives had educated state and local government officials
about both their water-wise practices and their economic impact. So while our
industry suffered, self-serve car washes were praised as community leaders. Go
figure. Even if they do reuse the majority of their water, as claimed, it still
seems like a waste. But, then again, I've never been a car-washer.

Regardless, the fruits of this industry's initiative should
inspire us to start working against water restrictions for our industry -- if
it's not already too late. By the time you read this, spring will be right
around the proverbial corner for many states, so the opportunity is passing.
Still, some time, a few water meters and a bit of luck seem like an investment
we can afford.

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