By: Bob Vila, Civic Association Director & Water Committee Member
A couple of rainy days this week won't change the fact that Palm Beachers are in for dry times. Stage two water restrictions have been imposed. Island residents must now limit watering to twice a week. And, it could get much worse.
Prolonged drought could lead to severe rationing of our most precious liquid resource as other communities have learned. For example, one California county mandated a 50% reduction in landscape watering when faced with a severe drought and limited total household water usage to 50 gallons/person/day.
With shortages looming, it’s time for Palm Beach to get serious about water conservation. As residents, we need to rein in our conspicuous consumption.
Consider that in the Town of Palm Beach, residents and businesses currently consume a staggering 2.6 billion gallons of water per year—roughly 80% for landscaping—at an annual tab of $13 million. Rates have more than doubled over the past 5 years. With limited supplies and rising consumption, further sharp increases are likely.
The average Palm Beach single-family residence uses some 1,400 gallons per day, over six times the Florida average. Certain multi-family residences—condos and town-house complexes-- are no less profligate. One multi-family complex averages 70,000 gallons per day throughout the year even though many or its residents are only seasonal.
Our lush landscaping is the primary reason for the extraordinarily high usage. It’s part of what makes Palm Beach so special and I see no need to change this.
But as a Palm Beach resident and a Palm Beach Civic Association director and water committee member, I strongly support cutting back our water usage. We must do what it takes to limit our consumption before it’s too late.
How can we retain our landscaping and still conserve water?
The answer is a new technology known as “smart irrigation.” The Civic Association’s Water Resources Committee has thoroughly researched this new way of watering and shown that the benefits are beyond any doubt.
I have installed “smart irrigation” on my own property in Palm Beach and the results are astounding. Most of the Town’s early adopters are showing remarkable 40%-65% savings in their overall water consumption without any changes or damage to their plant materials.
The two primary components of smart irrigation are (1) water conservation sprinkler nozzles (the drops that are sprayed are larger, rather than a wasteful mist), and (2) smart controllers that replace the clock timer to regulate when and how much water is applied to each zone.
Smart irrigation has been embraced for years in many Western states where it has been indisputably proven to slash water consumption by 25%-60%. These communities use less water than Palm Beach due to drought-resistant plantings, smaller property sizes and drip irrigation. Yet, even there, the technology has never failed to meet expectations.
Landscape professionals report that Palm Beachers overwater; they harm the health of their gardens and lawns by too much irrigation. Perhaps even worse, overwatering leads to runoff of soil and chemicals which pollute our nearby waters. Installed Town-wide, “smart irrigation” systems would save residents, businesses and Town agencies nearly a billion gallons of water and several millions of dollars per year, without affecting the beauty of our island. This is clearly a major “win” for everyone!
For single-family residences, the typical payback period will be as short as six months. The cost of a “smart irrigation” controller ranges from $200 to well over $1,000 for a very large property. Once tuned, these systems require almost no maintenance. For multi-family properties—condo and apartment buildings—the payback periods are equally attractive.
I urge you to install “smart irrigation” on your property for all your outdoor landscaping needs. You will find, as I have, that the appearance of your lawn and plants is not diminished in the least and the savings you enjoy are substantial.
Call your irrigation/landscape specialist to learn more about “smart irrigation” or contact the Civic Association (561-655-0820) for details, but please act now! There is no time to delay.
Bob Vila hosted a variety of TV shows for over 30 years including This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, Bob Vila, and Restore America with Bob Vila. He is a resident of Palm Beach, vice chairman of the Town’s Architectural Commission, a Palm Beach Civic Association Director, and a member of the Palm Beach Civic Association Water Resources Committee.