District works to conserve water, maintain playing fields
School playgrounds and fields are looking a little less inviting these days with the ongoing drought taking its toll.
“It has been a brutal summer and everybody is going through it,” John Swain, district environmental maintenance director, said. “We are concerned not only about this year, but next year.”
The brown grass and longer lengths of turf are signs of the district doing its part to slow the use of the dwindling resource. Swain said there are many factors that go into watering a district of this size and even more nuances are added when there is a drought.
To some residents it may appear the water is on all the time at a school. Swain said what isn’t noted is that it’s different stations that are on during the week. With upwards of 38 stations at a high school, watering a whole school may take three days and then the watering cycle begins again.
Some residents may also notice that sprinkling systems are going during hours when cities have discouraged watering. Swain said many cities have asked the school district to water during those off times to allow residential to have enough water pressure at night. Larger landscape areas can monopolize the water system, which makes it impossible for others to water.
“We are trying to do the best we can,” Swain said. “We are all in this together.”
Jeff Olsen, outdoor environmental coordinator, said the district appreciates neighbors alerting the district when they see broken sprinkler systems. With that knowledge, district officials can shut down the system at the school temporarily until the problem is fixed. The district has also utilized its grounds crews to spend extra time scouting for broken sprinkler heads and other issues. That mow crew is also cutting lawns less often, leaving the turf at a longer length to help mitigate the water issues.
“We are trying to maximize the use of what we are getting,” Swain said.
Still, lawns at schools are going dormant. Swain said that’s OK in most areas, but the district still must keep some playing fields in good condition. If a playing field becomes too stressed, the district must discontinue play on that field for safety issues, he said. To help keep those necessary areas green, the district will borrow water from other non-playing fields. Swain said that means some areas may appear too green, but overall, the water use is still being cut back 20 percent or more.
Distressed fields may also mean shutting down fields to use by recreational leagues. Olsen said signs are posted at those fields to warn residents to not use the resource.
Olsen said the district also keeps up on its fertilizing and uses a formula which helps the ground maintain water for a longer period.
Another drought help is now part of all new buildings. The newer landscapes utilize a weather track system which pauses watering if there is a storm coming. Beginning with Legacy Junior High, water conservation planting also was utilized in the front of the school. Rocks, drought-resistant grasses and other low-water use plants are used for the landscaping.
“We try to be consistent throughout the district,” Swain said. “It’s a balancing act.”
Residents who notice a problem with watering at schools can call 801-402-5600 and report the issue.