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City looks to showers, lawns for savings

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

Water efficiency, not water conservation, are buzz words for the city of Hays as it moves forward with new initiatives to make the most of a precious resource.

"We put in some pretty advanced water conservation measures back in the '90s," said City Manager Toby Dougherty. "We were trend-setters in that regard and have sort of been riding that wave of success since then.

"We want to start thinking about efficiency not conservation. Because efficiency means getting the same result or very similar result utilizing less water."

Since the 1990s, new water efficiency standards have developed, Dougherty said, and low-flow shower heads provided to residents by the city in the '90s just don't measure up to the shower heads available now.

Replacing the 2.5-gallon-a-minute models from the 1990s, the city now is providing free models that use only 1.2 gallons a minute, he said. Staff also is exploring more "aesthetically pleasing" options in shower heads.

"We would like to have these hanging in master bathrooms and main bathrooms that get utilized every day," he said. "That's the best for us."

The water-saving benefit, he said, of replacing 40 old shower heads with 40 new low-flow shower heads is one acre-foot of water per year.

Another water efficiency being explored in Hays involves outside water usage.

An upcoming free Water Smart Landscape Series, sponsored by the city, K-State Research and Extension, Ellis County, Ellis County Extension Master Gardeners and the Big Creek Middle Smoky Hill River Watersheds will focus on several issues relating to efficient water usage.

Topics will include:

* March 26 -- Soil health, fertilizer and pesticides.

* April 2 -- Right plants, right place.

* April 9 -- Water wise, stormwater runoff and private wells.

* April 23 -- Lawns: Turf cool season to warm season conversion and healthy lawn care tips.

The city's turf conversion program helps residents convert from cool season lawns to warm season grass. Providing advice and free buffalo grass seed, city staff hopes to see buy-in from residents.

"It's a great program," said Jeff Boyle, parks director for the city of Hays.

A buffalo grass lawn, he said, typically can use 70 percent to 80 percent less water than a cool season grass. City staff will provide input during the conversion process.

"Each situation's going to be unique," Boyle said. "If, for example, a yard has a lot of deciduous trees and the yard's typically shaded all day, you might have to go to (a different plan).

"Those are the kinds of things we'll be looking at."

More information on the lawn conversion program and Water Smart Landscape Series is available by calling the Hays Parks Department at (785) 628-7375.

In addition to the lawn conversion program, city staff is planting test plots throughout Hays, and converting some ballfields, such as portions of Aubel-Bickle, Glassman and Speier, from cool season to buffalo grass.

One test plot of drought-resistant landscaping plants will be in front of city hall and another is in progress at 21st Street and Pershing Court.

"We're making some good efforts toward conservation," Boyle said. "We hope to continue that and be better every day."

Averaging 1.8 million gallons of water a day as a city, Dougherty said that number drastically increases in the summer.

"In the heat of the summer, we could use 3.5 to 3.8 million gallons of water a day," Dougherty said. "So that extra 2 million gallons is going straight on lawns and flowers and other things.

"We have to educate people on the benefits of converting from a cool season irrigated grass to a warm season irrigated grass."

Beyond pointing out the benefits, though, the city has to show how to make that conversion, and what the resident can expect from the conversion, he said.

"We're going to have to try to incentivize it," Dougherty said. "Show people the differences.

"You can publicly state all you want that we want waterwise landscaping and conservation, but I think until you actually show people how it can be done aesthetically, you're not going to get buy-in. So we have to lead by example on that."