LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — A cooperative extension specialist at New Mexico State University is looking for ways to preserve green spaces in places where water is scarce.
The research focuses on water conservation, said Bernd Leinauer, who has been studying turf grass and water conservation for 13 years.
“We are focusing on water preservation in the landscape,” he told KRWG-TV (http://bit.ly/1f1co8C). “We need water to grow plants in the desert, but when water is used for aesthetics instead of food, for example, it becomes questionable. So, how much water can we afford to use?”
So far, Leinauer has found that about 50 percent of potable water used during the summer in Las Cruces goes to irrigate landscaping and that percentage is not uncommon in other cities in the desert Southwest.
Leinauer and others at NMSU are investigating improvements to irrigation systems as well as increasing the use of non-potable water for keeping landscaping watered.
Leinauer said green spaces are important for cities since they contribute to the well-being of residents and the moderation of the urban climate. However, justifying lawns and gardens has become difficult as New Mexico wrestles with consecutive years of drought. Conditions have been extreme over the last three years.
NMSU researchers said New Mexico is not alone.
“We are in a climate that is representative of many others in the world and our research applies to many other areas,” Leinauer said, noting that NMSU is at the forefront of research related to salinity tolerance and subsurface irrigation.
The research group contends treated effluent produced by city utilities should be considered an alternative source of water for parks and golf courses.
Through a National Science Foundation grant, Leinauer has been working with the University of California Berkeley, Stanford University and Colorado School of Mines to see if treated effluent can be adapted to residential areas.
Another alternative is saline groundwater, which Leinauer said makes up 70 to 80 percent of all water in New Mexico.
Leinauer also has been looking at subsurface watering.
“One of the reasons we use so much water during the summer, especially in the residential sector, is that irrigation systems we have in place are extremely inefficient,” he said. “You see water on the sidewalk or water running down the street.”