Landscape, Irrigation, and Outdoor Water Use

For many water utilities, outdoor water use is the largest single end use of water within their service area, and thus provides the greatest opportunity to achieve customer water savings, both residential and commercial. In the past decade, many advances have been made in irrigation efficiency, using new technology to better manage outdoor water use. 

Irrigation equipment includes everything from hoses and impact rotor sprinklers to valves, pipes, controllers, and drip emitters. Irrigation equipment such as sprinkler heads and smart controllers can also be found in the Fixtures, Appliances and Equipment section of the Resource Library.

Researching the effectiveness of outdoor water efficiency measures is a priority for AWE. In 2015, AWE launched its Outdoor Water Savings Research Initiative to identify and clarify what programs, practices, and irrigation technologies can support effective utility-driven outdoor efficiency programs. The first phase of the initiative was an analysis of published research on outdoor programs to guide future research towards areas of greatest need. In 2017, AWE released the Peak Day Water Demand Management Study, a study conducted to determine whether targeted shutoff of remotely-controlled irrigation systems could successfully reduce utility peak demand. In early 2019, AWE released the study Landscape Transformation: Assessment of Water Utility Programs and Market Readiness Evaluation. This two-year study addressed literature gaps identified in the first phase of the initiative, including reasons and rationale for customer landscape choices, cost-effectiveness and cost savings of various outdoor water savings programs, and persistence of outdoor water savings. Following this publication, AWE released Sustainable Landscapes: A Utility Program Guide, which draws upon results and conclusions from the landscape transformation study to provide actionable information for water utilities beginning or enhancing outdoor efficiency programs. As our communities experience cycles of drought related to climate change, saving water outdoors must be a priority for water utilities and water customers alike.

Almost every homeowner in North America spends some amount of time and money providing water to outdoor plants. There are two basic approaches to accomplish this task: 1) Manual irrigation with hoses, nozzles, and sprinklers; and 2) Clock-driven in-ground automatic irrigation.

Simcha Blass, an Israeli hydraulic engineer, is credited with the discovery and introduction of modern drip irrigation in the early 1930’s. Drip irrigation (also known as micro-irrigation) became more common with the introduction of plastics in the 1950’s. 

Evapotranspiration or ET is a measurement of the amount of water required for plant growth. ET measures the quantity of water transpired from plant tissues and evaporated from the surface of surrounding soil, expressed as a depth (usually in inches). ET is based on a number of factors that can include: local temperature, precipitation, cloud cover, solar radiation, and the type of plants being grown.

Many people desire the convenience and flexibility of an automatic, in-ground irrigation system and many large properties simply cannot be effectively irrigated manually without a substantial amount of labor. A properly designed, installed, and well maintained automatic irrigation system can provide appropriate applications of water across a landscape as well as convenience to the customer.

Before the first humans arrived, the North American landscape was made up of a variety of ecosystems, but as of today, less than 0.01% of the original prairie survives in small, scattered preserves. In recent years, natural landscaping - using native plants and plant communities in landscaping - has become more common. Natural landscaping has proven to be water efficient, as native plants require little supplemental watering.

Outdoor landscapes and gardens all across North America require a significant amount of water to maintain. Understanding the biological characteristics and optimal growing conditions of plants, shrubs, and trees are imperative to using the correct amount of water, and therefore reducing water waste, in any garden or outdoor landscape. 

Smart controllers are an emerging technology for adjusting irrigation applications based on actual weather and soil conditions. The concept of adjusting irrigation application to meet prevailing climate and weather conditions is as old as irrigated agriculture.

Browse for program design resources, educational content and outreach materials to enhance your outdoor efficiency programs!

The Smart Water Application Technology (SWAT) project is an international utility/irrigation industry initiative to achieve exceptional landscape water use efficiency through the application of irrigation technology.

One of the most important steps in gardening of any type is soil preparation. Good soil is what we build our yards and gardens out of. Additionally, soil improvement helps make landscapes more water efficient, as good soil retains water better, leading to less water waste.


How much water does it take to grow an attractive and healthy landscape? It all depends on factors such as local climate, the type of plants in the landscape, soil conditions, shading, and maintenance practices

Turf grass and its alternates are omnipresent across North America and require a significant amount of water. Outlined below is background information, benefits and drawbacks of turf grasses and synthetic turf.

Developing a comprehensive water-wise landscape plan will enable the creation of a beautiful water efficient outdoor space that maximizes the utility of existing landscape features.

Wildscape gardening involves developing a landscape that attracts wildlife such as birds, fox, and deer.  Wildscapes are often not an intentionally water-wise landscape, but in many instances, Wildscapes requires less water than an equivalent amount of turf grass.

Xeriscape is a method of landscaping that promotes water conservation. Rather than a specific "look" or a limited group of plants, Xeriscape is a combination of seven basic landscaping principles.