Kelowna kicks water conservation into high gear

Posted December 2005

The City of Kelowna Water Utility takes conservation seriously, and 2005 will be remembered as the year the utility kicked its Water Smart program into high gear.

Major water conservation efforts began in March, with the introduction of a new, inclining block rate for water. (An inclining block rate increases water rates as monthly consumption exceeds certain volumes.)

In April, Water Smart rolled out its soil amendment program for the fifth year. This spring, the lawns of 275 homes received a top-dressing of Glenmore Grow, a compost product that helps soil retain moisture so lawns require less water. The soil amendment program is incentive-based, meaning the homeowner pays for the cost of the product and the Water Smart program pays for delivery and spreading.

A new service offered this summer was complete indoor and outdoor water audits. Summer students were available to assess the water efficiency of indoor plumbing and outside irrigation systems. According to customers who took advantage of this service, one of the most interesting parts was the core sampling of lawn and underlying soil. A core sample can “tell the history” of a homeowner’s watering habits, and many customers were shocked to see the results of watering too frequently and using fertilizers with high nitrogen content.


Survey results show that more needs to be done

The 2005 edition of the City of Kelowna’s annual Citizens Survey showed that:

  • 96 percent of Kelowna residents think water conservation is very important;
  • 81 percent of residents have taken steps to reduce their water consumption; and
  • 55 percent of residents have reduced the volume of water they use for irrigation.

While the figures look promising, there’s still much to be done. “More than half the water used by the average home is for irrigation,” says Neal Klassen, the city’s Water Smart coordinator. “These survey figures show that 45 percent of residents still have to do their part in reducing outdoor water use. Over the next few years, our Water Smart program will focus on that 45 percent.” 


Drought-Tolerant Grass Experiment in 2006

The Water Smart program is looking for volunteers to participate in a drought-tolerant grass experiment in 2006. We’re looking for five or six people who currently have NO grass and have plans to seed early next spring. We will provide you with a special blend of fine fescue grass seed.

We’d also like to find five or six people who already have an established lawn that we can over-seed next spring with drought-tolerant grass seed.

The point of the experiment, obviously, is to see how much water is required to grow and maintain the grass. We believe that this grass will require far less water and maintenance then traditional grasses.

If you are interested in volunteering, you can find out more about the grass by clicking here. Look for the Online Catalog heading on the left side of the page, and the Eco-Lawn Link underneath the heading. To volunteer, you must own a single-family residence that receives water from the City of Kelowna Water Utility. For more information, call 868-3339 or email


Strata reduces water consumption by 49 percent

The new multi-family water rate introduced this spring prompted several wise strata councils to be proactive about reducing water consumption.

One example is the strata at Silver Place on Dilworth Mountain. In early July, it took advantage of Water Smart’s free irrigation system assessments. It took two days for Water Smart staff to evaluate the system thoroughly with the strata’s gardener, but once it was done the strata had a list of repairs and suggested upgrades to improve system efficiency. By making the repairs and implementing the suggestions, the strata was able to reduce its water consumption by 49 percent in July and 42 percent in August. It was an easy way to lower the water bill, when it seems the costs for everything else are rising.

If you belong to a strata council, your group can take advantage of this free service next spring. If you want more details, call the Water Smart office at 868-3338, or email


Core sampling helps to conserve water

The health of your lawn is not determined by how green it is on the surface. Rather, the main indicator of your lawn’s health is what you can’t see.

This summer, Water Smart staff took core samples to show customers the implications of watering too much and using high-nitrogen fertilizers. A core sample is simply a 13-cm (5-inch) plug of lawn that exposes your grass and the root system below the ground.

The first sign of over-watering is the depth of the roots. Healthy grass roots will be from four to six inches. If your grass roots are very short, that’s a sure sign of watering too much.

The next indicator is thatch. This is the spongy brown layer between the grass and the dirt. A thick layer of thatch is another sign of overwatering. And extremely compacted soil indicates excessive fertilizer use.

You can actually create a thirsty lawn when you manage it from the top, not from the bottom. Just looking at the colour of your grass may lead you to make decisions that are ultimately harmful. To grow a strong, healthy lawn that can survive a little drought, you really want to work on what’s underneath the grass.

Creating a Monster

Here’s how so many lawns in Kelowna become monsters with a voracious thirst for water.

  • In the rush to have a green lawn as quickly as possible, many people use fertilizers with high nitrogen content in the spring.
  • High-nitrogen fertilizers require a lot of water to prevent the grass from burning.
  • Excess lawn watering, especially in the spring, leads to shallow roots. All the nutrients and water are on the surface, so the roots get lazy, not bothering to dig deep.
  • Shallow roots lead to thatch.
  • Thatch repels water and shallow roots require excess water to survive the heat of summer.
  • Voila! You have created a monster lawn that is addicted to water.

Taming the Monster

So that’s what NOT to do. If you want to tame the monster and create a lawn that requires far less water and maintenance, take these tips from a Kelowna homeowner who watered his lawn just six times this whole spring and summer (and yes, the grass looked fine). 

  • Top-dress your lawn with organic material (compost, Glenmore Grow, etc) as often as you can. 
  • Stop using nitrogen fertilizers.
  • Avoid excessive watering in the spring. This will encourage deep root growth.

And that’s it! Granted, it might take a few years to build up your topsoil, especially if you have a lot of clay or sand, or if the soil has been compacted by excessive watering and fertilizers. But in the long run, you’ll have a healthier, happier lawn. And it all starts by taking a look at that 13-cm core sample.

For more information about Water Smart services, contact Neal Klassen at 250-868-3339 or