Westbank and Rossland embrace xeriscaping

It’s the big thing in California, and is quickly making its way up here. What’s all the fuss about? As well as being attractive and less labour intensive, xeriscaping can reduce domestic irrigation by as much as 50 percent. Drought-tolerant, often indigenous plants are watered for the first year after planting until healthy roots are established into the groundwater table. After that, they’re watered very little, or left entirely on their own.

Too good to be true? Obviously some utilities think so. Results from a B.C. Water Conservation Survey conducted in 2004 by B.C.’s Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection and the BCWWA’s Water Sustainability Committee, showed that only seven percent of respondents are xeriscaping, while another 16 percent are considering it.

The Westbank Irrigation District (WID) and the City of Rossland have both hopped onto the xeriscaping bandwagon—and with impressive results.

“We wanted to set an example for the community,” says WID manager Brian Jamieson, “therefore we removed the water fountain from in front of the district office and replaced it with a xeriscape garden as designed by a local nursery. Not only have we received many compliments on how good it looks, but we are probably using less than a third of the water required for a conventional garden.”

Planning officer Mark Martin says Rossland considered xeriscaping because of the amount of water the municipality was using compared to other Canadian cities. “Xeriscaping was just one of the components of a water conservation strategy we presented to Council.”

Neither utility found xeriscaping more costly that conventional gardening. “We didn’t notice any significant difference in the cost of the xeriscape garden,” notes WID’s Brian Jamieson. “We did save a lot of water, though.” Rossland’s Mark Martin says “you can get a lot of the plants at comparable prices, and some of the more decorative parts of a xeriscape garden—like old mine cars—are free. You require imagination to make an economical xeriscape garden work.” He also noted that “the irrigation used for the xeriscape is a drip system with timer, so we are using less water by only placing moisture where it is needed.”

Good advice for utilities considering xeriscaping…

If you’re considering a xeriscape gardening program, Brian Jamieson recommends you educate yourself first. Many colourful varieties of xeriscape plants are available locally. Although ongoing maintenance is low, initial soil matching, preparation and plant groupings must be carefully considered before planting. “There is a lot of information on the web and most nurseries have people who are trained in planning xeriscape gardens. It is wise to learn as much as you can and consult with knowledgeable people before embarking on a xeriscape project.”

Mark Martin advises that you “have as many facts about water consumption as possible,” and that you “don’t force the issue in the community without showing that the municipality is doing its part in trying to reduce water consumption. It’s important also to point out all the benefits of xeriscaping (e.g. lower maintenance costs, lower utility costs, and the ability to defer costly infrastructure upgrades.”

For more information about WID’s program contact Brian Jamieson at 250-768-5154 or wid.brian@telus.net

For more information about Rossland’s program contract Mark Martin at 250-362-7396 or markmartin@rossland.ca