The World is Closing In

By Luke Frank

Sorry if my mood seems a little foul. Maybe it was the five hours I spent in the bowels of D-80 passenger jet next to the ample lady with the tub of Noodle Magic, a garden trowel and a Diet Pepsi. I was en route to a meeting with irrigators about groups outside of the industry asserting themselves into water policy. Sometimes it feels like the world is closing in.

A couple issues back, I told you about some “anti-irrigation” activity in the green industry policymaking landscape. Significant, credible organizations such as the U.S. Green Builders Council (USGBC), and agencies like the EPA have been discussing “rewarding” the elimination of irrigation in a landscape plan higher than implementing efficient irrigation. Other groups are promoting only the use of nonpotable water in the landscape — all in the name of sustainability.

Surely, sustainability is about more than coveting resources; it’s about understanding and integrating available resources to configure and support local geography long-term, while developing new resources. Rainwater catchment and delivery systems, reclaimed water, industrial condensate, brackish water, and even desalination should be part of that equation — as should plant selection, soil amendment, drainage and irrigation.

How can irrigation be completely cut from any sustainability team? Where’s the water-use data and accountability when folks start saving their drought-tolerant plants with garden hoses? Where are the control and management of resources? But I digress.

There’s another group out there looking to channel outdoor water use under its purview. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has thrown its hat into the ring. ASHRAE’s been around a long time, has a 50,000-strong membership and is pretty active in Washington, D.C.

To extend its reach, ASHRAE has proposed a new standard — Standard 189.1 — for the “Design of high-performance green buildings, except low-rise residential buildings.” Standard 189.1 reads, in part, that it provides minimum criteria that address sustainable sites, water-use efficiency, energy efficiency, the building’s impact on the atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality (IEQ).

Did you catch the part about “water-use efficiency?” Apparently, ASHRAE is developing Standard 189.1 jointly with the LEED-administering USGBC and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America to provide minimum requirements for high-performance green building. Heating, refrigerating, air-conditioning and illuminating engineers proposing water-use policy?

Irrigation and other industry organizations/representatives/activists are responding. Even Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC) has responded, calling Standard 189.1 a significant barrier to the development of the green roof industry.

I really like GRHC’s concept: covering concrete with plant life. According to the organization, green roofs support a wider variety of plant life, which, in turn, provides a wide range of benefits associated with human use and enjoyment, air quality, urban food
production, urban heat-island reduction, stormwater management, and more. Just like landscapes, green roofs require regular periods of irrigation to support their plant life. It’s about control and accountability.

It’s been an interesting season of folks putting out their feelers, testing the waters. Those of us in the irrigation and green industries need to ensure that we continue to share our expertise in the formulation of water-use policies.

As an industry, we’ve accepted the responsibility of supporting a respectable effort to share our information and make our views known. But don’t organizations and agencies assuming the enormous responsibility of creating far-reaching policies and programs have a reciprocal responsibility to consult with the appropriate experts? How can any organization not research irrigation with irrigation experts, when irrigation accounts for more than half of urban outdoor water use? Such groups should actively seek out and involve that expertise.

As our meeting disbanded, I wondered who else might be staking their claim to water, and what changes the new administration might bring to water policy. I was quickly jolted back to reality with the prospect of getting on another plane for five hours. As I shuffled up to the gate, I saw several possibilities — an aisle seat nestled among the family with small kids and big lungs; center seat in the mosh-pit of a teenaged student group; pinched between a window and the portable electronics guy.

It was then that I decided it really didn’t matter. Somebody was going to have to sit next to me — a big sweaty guy who stuffs the overhead compartment, takes the armrests and reclines the whole ride. Perhaps the world is closing in on my neighbors.

Luke Frank has been an editor and publisher in the green industry for the past 17 years, addressing water resource development, management and conservation through the irrigation profession. His field experience includes 17 years as an irrigation foreman, contractor and manager in the landscape, turf, golf and nursery industries. He currently resides in Albuquerque, N.M., and can be reached via e-mail at

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *