Responsible landscaping can protect our water resources

Audrey Gillespie, Special to the Reporter-News
Published 5:00 p.m. CT May 2, 2021


I spent quite a bit of time researching statistics to impress you with the critical need to conserve and protect water, then I thought, “For pity’s sake, this is West Texas. People know our water resources are limited and new arrivals know it’s not cheap when they get their first water bill.” 

Let me set the stage another way.

Imagine a natural setting with native plants. It rains. Roughly 40% of the water that falls will go back up into the atmosphere through evaporation from soil surfaces, any water features and through transpiration from plants. Ten percent will run off. Fifty percent will infiltrate the soil. The portion of that moisture that returns to the groundwater will have been effectively filtered by the plants, rocks and soil it passes through.

Now imagine a new residential development goes up in this same area. Instead of plants, there are now buildings, paved roads, driveways and patios. The native plants and topsoil supporting them have been removed and replaced with sod on a thin veneer of topsoil from someplace else over compacted subsoil.

For the new lawns to remain emerald green and weed-free, sprinklers run and fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides and pesticides are applied. Only 30% of any rain will return to the atmosphere through evapotranspiration and 15% will infiltrate the underlying soil. The remaining 55% will run off, carrying residues that will join road grime and other pollutants on the way to and through area waterways.

All the landscapes together form the single largest source of non-point water contamination (as opposed to an individual identifiable source like a company dumping waste into the water system). Nitrogen and phosphorus from the fertilizers cause algae blooms and fish kills. Sediment clogs drainage ways, clouds rivers and degrades the aquatic habitat. Bacteria carried away by storm waters can pose a public health risk. 

The good news is that we can still have beautiful, productive landscapes, do our part to help protect our water resources and save money. Earth-Kind Landscaping is a method of landscape management from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service that delivers in each area. Find this great resource at

Conservation is part of the equation. Amending soils helps them absorb and hold water better. Native and well-adapted plants naturally need less moisture. Reducing turf areas, using drought-tolerant lawn grasses, watering only as needed, installing drip irrigation in planting beds, using water permeable hardscape and more reduce the need and cost of water.

We can protect our water supply by using less fertilizers and pesticides and avoiding applying them before a big rain event. Keep grass clippings and other yard debris out of the street. Keep soil on your property and out of the water by amending it with organic matter and…

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