BYU professor: Half of Utahns are still watering lawns too much | News, Sports, Jobs

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

A sprinkler sprays a lawn with water on University Avenue in Provo on Friday, June 3, 2022.

Although many Utahns are watering their lawns less frequently, in response to the current drought, one Brigham Young University professor says that half of Utah residents are still overwatering.

Rob Sowby, a civil and construction engineering professor at BYU, has contributed to over 200 civil engineering projects in North America, but now he’s turned his efforts toward the ongoing drought crisis in the Mountain West.

Recently, Sowby has studied how often people in Utah irrigate, how big their yards are and how healthy their grass is by using aerial photography of land parcels. He also mined the secondary water bills of thousands of anonymous customers in two Utah County cities with different water rates.

“With that information, we have this very accurate picture of the water use, the landscape, area, and the landscape health over thousands of customer parcels in these two cities,” Sowby said. “So it tells us what customers are actually doing with their landscapes as far as water use, and the landscape health.”

Ultimately, Sowby found that half of those involved in the study were overwatering their lawns and that those who watered too much ultimately had less healthy lawns.

Courtesy BYU Photo

BYU professor Rob Sowby poses in this undated photo.

“We now know that this is how real people irrigate, they don’t really know what they’re doing,” Sowby said. “What we found is that as you apply more water ,the landscapes do get greener and healthier, but it kind of peaks out after a certain point, and then it starts to decline after that. Putting more water on doesn’t help after a certain amount.”

To avoid overwatering, Sowby recommends following the Weekly Lawn Watering Guide from the Utah Division of Water Resources, or the use of smart irrigation controllers.

“If we can identify those users and encourage them to cut back, their water use will decline, their bills will go down and their landscapes will probably look better,” Sowby said.

Mindful water use shouldn’t stop with lawn care, however. Sowby recommends that all Utahns, regardless of their home ownership status, remember to make small and simple changes to conserve water.

“Everyone uses water, so everyone can do something. Even if you don’t own a home and have no grass to water, you can be part of the solution.” Sowby said in an article from BYU. “Turn off the tap when you brush your teeth. Wash your car with a sponge instead of a hose. Help family members adjust sprinklers that spray into the street. Small actions show others you are being a good steward.”

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