Conserva founder and COO Russ Jundt, right, and technician Kevin Say evaluate an irrigation system in Eden Prairie. Jundt said new technology and better design will cut outdoor water use at the home by 40 to 60 percent. Elizabeth Dunbar/MPR News

 

Many Twin Cities homeowners see their water bills spike each summer as they start watering their lawns. Here are some tips — from modest changes to the extreme — that could help you use less water this summer.

  • Check for leaks, wet sidewalks and streets. This applies to both built-in irrigation systems and hose-sprinkler setups. Any water that escapes on to streets and sidewalks is wasted water, and you’re paying for it.
  • Get a rain barrel. Instead of watering your lawn with drinking water, capture rainwater from your gutters.
  • Get a rain sensor for your irrigation system. New systems have been required to have these for several years, but older systems don’t always have them. A rain sensor stops an irrigation system from going on during the rain.
  • Go high-tech with your irrigation system. We replace our iPhones frequently, but Russ Jundt, founder of the irrigation company Conserva, says many home irrigation systems are 20 years old. You can put them on a timer, but that often leads to overwatering. New technology including evapotraspiration sensors, soil moisture sensors and a device loaded with 40 years of historical weather data.
  • Shut off the timer on your irrigation system and run it manually. Many suburban dwellers have their irrigation systems set to water every other day according to their city’s lawn watering restrictions. But turf expert Sam Bauer, a University of Minnesota Extension educator, said they are likely over-watering.
  • Use the “footprint method” to decide when to water. For those without high-tech gadgets, Bauer recommends watering after grass shows signs of wilt. Look for leaves to turn a little purple, and when you step on the grass, it doesn’t spring back right away.
  • Collect tuna cans. If you don’t have a built-in irrigation system, spread tuna cans around the yard and run your sprinkler. Bauer said the lawn only needs 1/4 inch of water a week to stay alive. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommends an inch a week for a healthy lawn, including rainwater, so some weeks it isn’t necessary to water.
  • Tolerate some brown. Our most common grass species in Minnesota, Kentucky bluegrass, can go dormant during a dry summer and bounce back. If we all tolerated a little more brown grass, we could save billions of gallons of precious groundwater every summer.
  • Replace part of your lawn with native plants. Native plants don’t need as much water. Expanding your garden also means less mowing.
  • Change your species of grass. When re-seeding or starting a new lawn, consider planting fescue or other species that have proven to tolerate drought better than Kentucky bluegrass and perennial rye grass. The University of Minnesota Extension has tested some varieties, and Bauer said there’s a lot of potential for them.
  • Mow, but not too much. Keep your lawn no shorter than 3 1/2 inches in height. Longer grass helps the lawn retain water better.

Beneath the Surface, Minnesota’s Pending Groundwater Challenge.

  1. Listen Jim Stark, director of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Minnesota office, talks with MPR News’ Cathy Wurzer

The recent heavy rains have been a drought-buster, leaving Minnesota entirely drought-free for the first time in a long time. But that’s not the same thing as ending concern about the state’s groundwater, Jim Stark, director of U.S. Geological Survey in Minnesota, told MPR News’ Cathy Wurzer on Morning Edition today.

Unlike big parts of the West, Minnesota is drought free this week for the first time in a long time.

Aquifers — water-containing rock and sand layers underground — that are near the surface are responding to the heavy rains, Stark said. “They’re up several feet in many cases and that is a really good thing for our groundwater systems.”

But aquifers that are deeper and that are often the main source of drinking and other water for many city systems respond more slowly. “There’s a lag time,” Stark said.

“We still continue to be concerned about groundwater in many parts of the state, White Bear Lake being one,” he said.

White Bear Lake has been the object of concern for years since its level starting dropping. Home- and business-owners have sued the state, arguing that the Department of Natural Resources should have done more to limit groundwater pumping by cities around the lake. The U.S.G.S. has attributed the decline in the lake both to lack of precipitation and to increased groundwater pumping.

“White Bear Lake is responding (to recent rain),” Stark said. “It’s up a couple feet from its low. But these events that we have going on right now really are temporary with respect to our major groundwater systems. We’ll continue to be concerned about sustainability in those aquifers on long term.”

White Bear Lake is back up to 2008 levels, still several feet below the levels of a few years prior.

“That recharge is slow and it responds over long periods of time, years to decades. These events we see now won’t be noticeable in those deeper aquifers for some time. There’s a lag time of years to effect water levels significantly in those deeper systems. It depends on the depth of those systems and their connection to the land surface but years to decades.”

That’s why, Stark said, water conservation is still important in many parts of the state.