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Texas AgriLife Extension Service Texas Water Development Board Texas Nursery and Landscape Association Texas AgriLife Extension Service Texas AgriLife Extension Service
A supplement to the Best Management Practices Manual produced by the Texas Water Conservation Task Force.

Programmatic Approaches

Programmatic approaches to promote landscape planning and design for water conservation include both educational and incentive programs. Education can take advantage of local resources including, where found, Cooperative Extension offices, local chapters of the American Institute of Architects, local homebuilders associations, local landscape and nursery associations, Master Gardeners, and other and gardening groups. Educational materials can include pamphlets for customers with guidelines on how they can design their own home landscape, booths, and/or workshops at home & garden shows which are held throughout the state.

Following is an example of content of a WaterWise Brochure produced by the Texas Nursery & Landscape Association and the Texas WaterWise Council.

WaterWise Landscaping Principles

  1. Planning and Design
    Draw a layout of your yard showing existing structures, trees, shrubs, grass, and other plants. Determine your landscape budget, preferred style, function of the area(s), drainage needs, maintenance, and water requirements. Next, sketch your desired landscape plan. Be sure to group plants with like water needs together.
  2. Soil Evaluation and Improvement
    The very best thing you can do for your plants and be WaterWise is to build deep, high quality soil. A minimum depth of 6 inches of good soil is desirable, but 12-18 inches is preferable. Native and adapted plants do extremely well with native soils, but improved soils benefit most plant species.

    Top-dress your turf with shallow layers of quality soil amendments to build a deeper, richer soil profile. This can be done periodically and goes a long way toward improving your turfgrass quality. (continued)
    Waterwise Landscape Brochure Example (continued)

    Composts and landscape soils are available. Incorporating generous amounts into planting beds will reward your landscape with a larger reservoir of moisture-holding matter. Contact the Soil Testing laboratory at 979-845-4816 for soil test information.
  3. Practical Turf Areas
    Turfgrasses generally require more frequent watering than native or adapted plants, so use grass in functional areas that can be efficiently watered. For example, instead of grass, put ground cover in areas that are narrow, small, sloping, odd-shaped, or close to pavement. Many ground cover plants are more water conserving than turfgrass and
    require substantially less maintenance.
  4. Appropriate Plant Selection
    Choose trees, shrubs, and ground covers that are either native or adapted to your climate and soil. Consult with professional horticulturists in your area or Texas Cooperative Extension for plants best suited to your area.
  5. Efficient Irrigation
    Plants don’t waste water, people do. Water early in the day to minimize water loss from evaporation. The sun is less intense and wind is likely to be light or absent. Water only when plants need it. Too much watering not only wastes water, but also can push nutrients away from the plant roots and leads to more weeding and pruning. Excess
    water also causes development of shallow root systems and encourages more disease and insect problems. Plants in hot summer months need water only when they show signs of stress in the morning. Plants show stress in the afternoon due to the heat of the day and not necessarily the need for water.

    Adjust sprinklers to water vegetation, not pavement, and sidewalks. Adjust automatic sprinklers to run at intervals appropriate for the season. Practice deep, infrequent watering to encourage deep root systems. Use sprinklers that produce large drops of water rather than a fine spray to minimize evaporation. Drip irrigation works well in nonturf

    When installing a new irrigation system or upgrading an old system, be sure to engage the services of a licensed irrigation contractor. It’s the law. Lists of licensed individuals are available at www.tceq.tx.state.us
  6. Use of Mulches
    Use mulches wherever possible. Mulches reduce evaporation of water from the soil and limit wee d growth. They also help reduce soil water loss and erosion, help moderate soil temperatures, aid in good root development by adding rich organic matter to the soils (if the mulch is organic), slows or eliminate wee growth that competes for water and nutrias, and add beauty. (continued)

    At least 3-4 inches of mulch should be maintained at all times around plants and trees. Replenish often since organic matter decomposes over time. Keep mulch from making direct contract with the trunks of trees or woody ornamentals. Extend mulch out to the drip line where possible. (continued)
  7. Appropriate Maintenance
    Weed lawn sand gardens as needed. Weeds rob plants of valuable water. Check irrigation systems for leaks. Control insect and disease problems when they arise and feed and fertilize only as needed. Mow grass at proper heights.


    Proper application of nutrients assures healthy plants. Too much fertilizer causes plants to require additional mowing and irrigation. Leave lawn clippings on the lawn, instead of bagging. This enriches the soil and reduces fertilizer needs. Fertilizing once or twice a year is sufficient for most grasses and once a year is sufficient for other plants. Use slow release fertilizer for best results.

    Mowing height for turfgrass affects watering needs. Less frequent watering is required for plant material mowed at its optimum height. Evaporation from the soil is also reduced with a longer leaf blade. Use sharp blades on mowers and do not remove more than onethird of the leaf blade at each mowing.

    This information is provided by the Texas WaterWise Council in cooperation with your Texas certified nursery/landscape professionals.

Incentives to encourage proper planning and design can include awards programs, rebate programs for landscape conversion, and points toward a “green” business or landscape permit approval process. The first of these two awards and rebates are programmatic approaches, the third, requirements for building permits or plan approvals, requires
ordinance or service rules, and will be dealt with in the next section.

Awards programs which recognize good planning and design for low water-use landscapes can be run as part of a broader landscape award program which recognizes Xeriscape or native landscapes. These award programs are often run with local partners including Master Gardeners, Cooperative Extension agents, representatives of the "Green" industry, and landscape architects. Such programs often include signage and recognition in local media for the individual property owner, whether business or residential, a neighborhood association or homeowners association and sometimes
include cash awards or free or discounted landscape supplies provided by local contest sponsors. Caution should be taken in designing and implementing an award program to ensure that aesthetic considerations do not outweigh water savings. Comparison of contestants’ monthly water use to their neighborhood or citywide average can help show
that award winners are conserving water.

Rebate programs which include design components include the San Antonio’s Watersaver program which is multi-faceted and requires participants to submit a design as part of the rebate application process for a landscape conversion. Stand-alone rebates for design are unlikely to be found due to the relationship between the final converted landscape and water savings. The conversion is the “proof” of compliance with the design. However, good planning and design are essential to get the most water use efficient landscape.

Programmatic Approach to Landscape Plant Selection
Utilities interested in promoting plants which will demand less water have created programs focused both on education and on incentive(s). The database included on the Urban Landscape Guide website is provided as a tool to assist in educating utility customers and staff about the types of plants which will perform well without the need for excessive watering in all regions of the state. The database also includes information about nutrition needs and pest and disease resistance, attributes which affect water demand and water quality. Several utilities and water districts in Texas have created service area specific guides to assist their customers in plant selection. These can be used as models of how to organize a program while using the statewide database in the U.L.G. Three are listed below:

El Paso offers a list of plants which are well adapted for the desert under the title Dessert Blooms; http://www.epwu.org/conservation/plants.html a more detailed guide to low water use landscapes in an arid environment
is found in their CD-Rom, Desert Blooms which can be ordered from EPWU.15

Lower Colorado River Authority: Produces the Hill Country Landscape Options for use by homeowners, developers and municipalities as a guide for low water use landscapes. The [hotlink: http://www.lcra.org/water/hillcountrylandscapes.html ] contains plant lists, design and maintenance tips.

San Antonio: Landscape Care Guide includes seasonal guidance on landscape maintenance for low water use or XeriscapeTM landscapes. The attractive guidebook is available for sale, or free for those who attend water conservation
workshops – an instructive example of how educational materials can help entice customers to learn more about water conservation. San Antonio has held a Water Saver Landscape competition annually since the early 1990s which is presented as a Case Study on p. 26.

Another educational program of interest is the City of Corpus Christi’s Purple Water- Wise Plant Labels. The Program involves cooperation among the City’s conservation program, a non-profit, Xeriscape Corpus Christi, commercial nurseries, and Texas Cooperative Extension to bring to public awareness of plants that are proven performers
and low water users in the Coastal Bend. Purple labels are affixed to Water Wise and drought-tolerant plants offered at retail nurseries. Utility customers and nurseries have expressed appreciation for the program, and sales figures indicate it has been successful at encouraging purchase of the labeled plant. Advertising includes 30 second PSAs on radio and TV, utility printed banners and handouts which are displayed at the nurseries.

Incentive Approach
Financial incentives for plant selection typically focus on turf replacement. Such programs can include rebates for replacement of existing turf, and care calculated on a basis of square footage of turf replaced. Fee rebates can be offered to homeowners in new developments who select a Water Wise landscape. By calculating the ET for the utility service area, the conservation staff can determine the potential water savings, and thus the cost of water saved.

Developing an Awards Program for Xeriscapes:
The San Antonio Water Saver Landscape Awards Awards programs allow the utility to use a limited amount of financial resources to draw attention to the types of landscape practices that are desired in the community. The Water Saver Landscape Awards Program in San Antonio has been run for more than a decade with cooperation between the Edwards Aquifer Authority, San Antonio River Authority, San Antonio Parks and Recreation, San Antonio Botanical Garden, the San Antonio Water System, and the Garden Volunteers of South Texas. Each year, a committee is formed with representatives of these organizations. The criteria for determining award winners have been developed and adjusted over the years since the program started.

In the early years of the contest, both neighborhood associations and individuals could win a prize. Neighborhood associations were encouraged to enter if they had five or more qualifying yards within their neighborhood. Each yard had to be at least 50% Xeriscape. Prizes in the early version of the program were $500 for the neighborhood association and $100 each for each of the winning yards. In recent years, as neighborhood associations who were willing to participate and had potential to win have won the prize, and so that prize was dropped from the contest. Currently the awards have gone to individual homeowners and the prizes have been adjusted to reward 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize winners.

Another important aspect of the program that was introduced in the late 1990’s was that the water use patterns of the homeowner were included in the criteria for awarding the prize. This addressed a concern which arose because as a number of studies have found, some people convert to Xeriscape plants and continue to over over-water their landscapes.

he prizes are not cash, but gift certificates to local nurseries for the purchase of Xeriscape plants. The winners are determined based upon a score sheet which assigns values to each of the seven Water Wise principles. The water agencies which sponsor the contest send their representatives out for a full day in a van together to tour the yards of the contestants and score each yard. The Program is promoted by all the agencies with brochures, an application form, and announcements in local media outlets.

On Mother’s Day each year, the award winners are expected to hold an open house event where they make their yards available to the public to see what they have done with their award-winning landscapes. The homeowner does not need to be present and may allow the back yard to viewed, but is only required to allow people to view the front yard as part of the contest.

The winning homes are staffed by Master Gardener volunteers during the open house, and the list of winners is publicized in the local paper. Local residents who are interested in viewing the yards then can tour around and talk with both the homeowner and/or the Master Gardener volunteer about what went in to producing the water-saving landscape.

Over the years of the contest, a change has happened in the nature of San Antonio landscapes. In the late 90s, if one drove through a San Antonio neighborhood which was part of the contest, one would see the yards of the contestants with Xeriscapes and few other yards within a neighborhood had Xeriscape landscapes. Now, it is not uncommon in San Antonio to see elements of Water Wise landscaping in many yards, small bedded plots along the curb or the sidewalks featuring attractive, flowering, low water use plants and the use of buffalograss, zoysiagrass, or other low water demanding turf. Thus, the Watersaver Award Program has not only helped, educate those who are already interested, but also rewarded those who have taken the steps to change their landscape, but also and helped the public in general to choose attractive, water saving plants for their yards.


An important caution for programs which choose to reward their customers financially for replacing turf is that the plants do not control watering schedules and thus there is no guarantee that water savings will be achieved. To ensure that water savings goals are met it is recommended the utility include provisions specific to water consumption. For example, if a customer’s water use increases in the year after installation of the new landscape (compared month to month), the utility could require all or part of the financial incentive to be refunded. One potential difficulty of this approach is that all plants require additional water during establishment to assist in root growth and the plant’s stress reaction to transplanting. Transplanted trees may require additional water for as much as two years in order to develop a healthy root system and become well established.

Water Wise Landscape incentives can be based upon square footage of landscape installed with low water use features (plants and permeable non-plant material) or by the size and type of plants installed [http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/watercon/landscape.htm]. The city of Austin also provides additional incentives for soil amendments [http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/watercon/soilrebate.htm]. The city of El Paso’s program is designed to replace turfgrass, and like the Austin program, specifies the types and sizes of species to be planted. Builders of developments and commercial properties can also receive incentives [http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/watercon/soilbuilders.htm], including
lowered impact fees, or points toward a required landscape elements for installation of Water Wise landscapes or improved soil amendment.

Rebate amounts in Texas range from $0.025 per square foot to $1 per square foot of turfgrass landscape replaced. Austin’s landscape rebate is tied to the specific plants used in the WaterWise landscape. Pre-approval steps for landscape rebates include an application form; a landscape plan including the size of the yard to be converted; and a
pre-installation inspection to ensure that information in the application is accurate. Specific measures of the programs often differ in details and can be examined on their websites. Most have a maximum allowable turf limit (usually 50%); San Antonio and Austin cap their rebate at $500 per customer, and Austin has a requirement that customers maintain water savings while San Antonio [http://www.saws.org/conservation/h2ome/landscape/ ] offers additional funds to those
who meet water saving goals, or who use native plants or no irrigation system. El Paso’s program [http://www.epwu.org/conservation/turf_rebate.html] offers the highest rebate amount in Texas and is examined in a Case Study on page 27. Landscape rebate programs also require post-inspections to determine that the plan has been followed.

El Paso’s Turf Replacement Program
El Paso’s turf replacement program is designed to remove turf from the desert environment and replace it with plant materials and landscaping that are more appropriate to the local climate. El Paso receives on average approximately 8 inches of water each year. The program is targeted both to residential and commercial customers. The minimum amount of turf that must be removed to qualify for a rebate is 100 square feet. The rebate amount is $1.00 per square foot of turfgrass removed. Program qualification requires landscape plans and an approved application prior to replacing the turf. The funds are limited by program budget, so it is run on a first come, first served basis. Funds are not limited for an individual landscape, so it is possible for very large landscapes to eat up a large amount of the program budget in any particular month or year.

Research indicates the program has been successful in reducing water use by El Paso customers. A 2004 study indicated that the average savings were 36,000 gallons per year per participating household, with the bulk of those savings achieved between May and October. The chart below shows the average gallons per day of residential customer water savings over 4-year program delivery.

Water Smart Homes, Green Building, LEED ratings
Several incentive programs for builders and architects have been developed to address energy efficiency. Over the past several years similar efforts have been started to encourage water efficiency in new construction. LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficiency Design) and local Green Building initiatives have a few existing water efficiency elements, and their leaders have been examining ways of increasing their incentives for water efficiency. Water Smart Homes [http://www.snwa.com/html/cons_wshome.html], a program based in Las Vegas, Nevada, gives builders specific requirements for water efficiency for either individual homes, or a Water Smart Neighborhood designation.

Florida Water StarSM [http://www.floridawaterstar.com/] and the EPA’s new Water Sense [www.epa.gov/watersense/] labeling program16 are water-specific initiatives to encourage water efficiency. In today’s real estate market, the “Green” label can assist builders in selling designs which deliver savings in utility bills, recognition in the community and the satisfaction of developing and using a building with reduced impacts on the environment.

Utility water conservation programs can work directly with existing recognition/certification programs or consider starting a program specific to their community. Some of the utility specific incentives could include:

  • lower impact fees for meter hookup
  • publicity for the builder and/or developer paid for by the utility
  • education of consumers about the benefits of lower water bills, maintenance time, and increased future value of energy and water efficient homes
  • rebates and other financial incentives from energy and water utilities for installing efficient appliances, using efficient construction methods and materials, and reduced use of water wasting outdoor practices.

The list below gives a series of contacts for conservation programs which are interested in pursuing certification incentives:

  • LEED [http://www.usgbc.org/] – Includes points for rainwater harvesting systems: This program is coordinated by the U.S. Green Building Council. At the time of publication of this Manual, guidelines and points for water efficiency measures are being upgraded. The Council’s website should be consulted for the latest program guidelines.
  • Green Building programs like those in San Antonio [http://www.buildsagreen.org/] and Austin [http://www.austinenergy.com/Energy%20Efficiency/Programs/Green%20Building/index.htm] include use of plant lists, Water Wise landscape principles, rainwater harvesting, landscape guidelines limiting turf to no more than 50% of
    the landscape, and minimum soil depth, are typically coordinated between city and local homebuilders associations.
  • Water Smart Homes [http://www.snwa.com/html/cons_wshome.html] an initiative of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) provides incentives for new home builders to limit turf, reduce overall outdoor water use, limit the size of pools, and install efficient irrigation systems. The detailed rules are included in appendix. ????
  • Water Star Florida [http://www.floridawaterstar.com/] is an effort similar to SNWA’s Water Smart Homes. One of the technologies they promote is soil moisture sensors. They also provide workshops for homebuyers, homebuilders
    and independent certifiers as part of their promotional/educational mission.

Each of these incentive programs also has indoor water conservation elements and could provide an opportunity to implement indoor conservation BMPs (BMPs 2.4, 2.5, 2.6) or the Rainwater Harvesting BMP 2.18. For some utilities who have home rule authority or who lack the infrastructure to implement incentive programs, some of the elements of the
programs above can be pursued through local ordinance powers.

"Landscape planning and design is essential to water use efficiency..."

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15 For copies of the CD contact: willie@epwu.org, or El Paso Water Utilities Conservation Department, P.O. Box 511, El Paso, TX 79961-0001, (915) 594-5508
16 A decision-making process for the items to include in a Water Sense labeled home began in 2006, and the final criteria should be decided in the 2007/2008 timeframe. Water Sense labeling for irrigator certification is already available, see chapter 4 for more information on this program. Utilities with interest can look for opportunities to participate in public input on the developing program.