If you’ve been keeping up with the news this summer, it's likely you’ve heard the phrase “record high temperatures across the globe” more than once. Or twice. Or a dozen times. As our thermometers continue to reach new levels, our water usage inevitably does too. Hotter temperatures make our crops, lawns, and gardens demand more water, while surface water that we depend on evaporates at higher rates. When disheartening environmental news continuously knocks us down, individual action can help relieve feelings of helplessness while making a positive impact. So what individual action can we take to feel like we are a part of the water conservation solution, not the problem?
On the topic of water and climate change, the United Nations states, “Climate change is primarily a water crisis. We feel its impacts through worsening floods, rising sea levels, shrinking ice fields, wildfires, and droughts. However, water can fight climate change. Sustainable water management is central to building the resilience of societies and ecosystems and to reducing carbon emissions. Everyone has a role to play – actions at the individual and household levels are vital.”
One of the most powerful ways individuals, households, and organizations can conserve water is by veering away from the classic grassy lawn we are so familiar with in the U.S. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “If the average-sized lawn in the United States is watered for 20 minutes every day for 7 days, it’s like running the shower constantly for 4 days or taking more than 800 showers.” One strategy the EPI Missoula office uses to reduce our water usage is growing plants native to the environment of western Montana and utilizing mulch in place of a lawn.
Joshua Kuensting, EPI’s Administrative and Bookkeeping Assistant, ensures that the landscape surrounding our Missoula office is as water-efficient and aesthetically pleasing as possible. To begin, he tapped into local resources on what species of plants are more drought-resistant and native to the Missoula region. From there, he rallied EPI Staff members on an invasive and non-native plant removal mission, complete with snacks, refreshments, and sunshine. Where invasive weeds once stood now grows serviceberry trees and bluebunch wheatgrass, both serving as a food source and home for birds and insects. As of the beginning of August 2023, Joshua is yet to need to water any plants on the landscape.
“Choosing a native garden means you’re cultivating a plant biome that is already suited for the area. You are choosing not to introduce non-native and/or invasive plants that can wreak havoc on local ecosystems. Additionally, the native garden is incredibly low-maintenance. Hardly ever needing to weed or water the garden really helps free your time. Both the time and water-saving benefits are huge,” said Joshua.
We recognize there are strong cultural and personal reasons why people choose to water and grow grassy lawns. If the prospect of starting anew with a less water-intensive landscape intimidates you, you can always start with a small section of your yard and build from there! Every gallon of water saved amidst the climate crisis and this record-hot summer truly helps. To start a native plant garden in your area, we suggest contacting local nurseries for specific species recommendations. Happy native gardening to all!