USU water auditor makes every drop count by counting every drop
As the blue catch cups sit on the green and yellowed spotted yard of an apartment complex in Price, James Utley is carefully watching over things in the background.
As the sprinkler system turns off, Utley, a USU Logan student originally from Price, begins the walk along the yard, carefully checking each catch cup noting the water measurements along the way.
On a clipboard he carries on the walk, he marks down measurements noting the differences between the water's reach on the yard in each zone.
It sounds like a lot of work, but its benefits of improving and creating more efficient water systems for yards is the hope for the USU Extension Office as well as Price City.
"By doing a water audit we can help a homeowner to efficiently water their lawns while learning tips to conserve water and building better root structures in the ground for healthier lawns," said Utley, a Biology major. Since late May, Utley has been performing water audits on the yards of homeowners in the area as well as places including Washington Park for Price City and areas owned by Carbon County.
The work is made possible with the help of a grant and Price City helps chip in a small stipend for gas throughout the summer for Utley to travel around the area performing free water audits.
By having a water audit performed on a yard, Utley said it can help with showing how well a sprinkler system works in covering a yard during a water cycle.
"Some people may be guessing of how much to water their yards and for how long to do it," said Utley. "They might be shooting in the dark."
While at the apartment complex along Eastridge Road in Price on Monday morning, Utley noted some of the positives and faults of the system. An automated sprinkler based system can help with watering on a regular schedule in the early morning hours. But while it may be automated, Utley said homeowners need to regularly check and maintain their systems every few weeks to insure that the systems are adequately covering the entire lawn during a cycle.
"People just need to keep an eye on things," Utley said noting homeowners should do a walk through to check their systems once a month.
USU Extension Agent Ron Patterson said that people appreciate having a healthy green yard each year. But with the drought conditions hitting much of Utah as well as in the southwestern part of the United States, being more efficient in using water is important.
"With the current conditions out there, people just need to be more careful with the water usage when it comes to maintaining a yard," said Patterson.
Patterson credits a water audit test with giving a homeowner, or entities including Price City and Carbon County, a better idea of how their systems are working in regards to watering.
"The test results can help give homeowners a better understanding of how efficient their systems are," Patterson said, "and that can help benefit the community with reducing the use of water while improving someone's water system at the same time.
One of the key terms homeowners learn from the tests is distribution uniformity (DU). The higher a DU percentage is what homeowners are trying to accomplish. A water audit test can show how well zones on a particular property average during a cycle.
Homeowners should try to have a DU between 50 to 60 percent. Golf courses, because of their need to keep fairways and greens as colorful and well kept as possible, shoot to have a DU as high as 80 percent.
Utley also takes the time to look at the soil and its structure in a particular yard. By watering on a regular basis from the latter part of the spring season through the early fall, the soil can show how strong it is which aids in having a healthy looking lawn. Utley recommends that homeowners begin watering in the spring about once a week before moving on to multiple times a week during the warmer summer months to help build up the soil over the time.
"Starting earlier in the year with a watering schedule can really help keep a yard strong throughout the year," he said.
While some may have automated water systems, Utley said there are still plenty of homeowners using hoses to water their yards. While it may take a little more work in watering the entire yard, Utley said he knows that some homeowners can be successful in keeping a green yard in that manner.
To help upgrade and update a watering system, Utley said there are rebates available from the state for equipment including clocks, weather stations and other materials to help make them more efficient and use less water.
While it may seem a bit intimidating to have a water audit performed at their home, Utley said the benefits of a test can help a homeowner be more knowledgeable about keeping their yards strong and healthy.
"With a lot of the problems many are just simple things that can be fixed to make a water system more efficient," he said.
For more information about the water audits or to schedule one, contact James Utley at (435) 299-2646 or the USU Extension Office at (435) 636-3233. The water audits are free of charge.