Duke's Lawn Care Policies Save Water

Facilities Management takes steps to conserve water in summertime

Facilities Management collects rain water and runoff that is then used to water grounds across campus. Photo by Duke Photography.
Facilities Management collects rain water and runoff that is then used to water grounds across campus. Photo by Duke Photography.

As the dog days of summer crawl by, 18 counties across North Carolina are currently "abnormally dry" with one - Brunswick County - suffering from a moderate drought. Until recent rainstorms drenched the Triangle, rainfall was almost three inches below historical averages.

While July was the hottest-ever recorded month across the United States, Duke also felt the heat of several record-setting days. Luckily, Facilities Management has plans in place to minimize water use across the 350-acres of campus the department covers while keeping Duke's famous quads and flowers looking as beautiful as possible during summer months.

Since Durham's historic drought of 2007, Duke has cut its annual overall potable water use by 166 million gallons - and how Duke cares for its green spaces is a part of that. Roger Conner, superintendent for Duke Grounds, said using drought-tolerant grass and plants is just the start of what Facilities does.

"We'll focus on a holistic approach to care, from when and how we water grounds to where we get our water from," Conner said. "We're even looking into new technologies that will allow us to monitor the moisture in the soil, which will be important as we've had hotter summers a few years in a row now."

Facilities' commitment to water conservation begins with how water is collected. Duke has cisterns scattered across campus that can store over 250,000 gallons of rain water and runoff. This water is used for irrigation and grounds care across campus. After the water is collected, Facilities maximizes the efficiency of its watering by doing it early in the morning between 6 and 9 a.m.

"After that, it gets really hot and moisture evaporates easily," Conner said. "If we need to, we'll also water in the evening between 6 and 8 p.m."

By planting drought-resistant plants like sedums, palms, yuccas and six different types of grass, Duke uses species that are better equipped for North Carolina's hot summers and require less watering. Campus grass is kept at a length of about four inches, which helps create healthier roots that can hold onto water better. Organic mulch also holds in moisture while providing nutrients to strengthen roots of flowers and trees.

At some locations on campus, green, plastic bags are placed around the base of trees. The bags zip up tight and are filled with water, which dispenses a slow flow to the tree's roots over a week or longer.

Tavey Capps, Duke's sustainability director, said that Facilities' water-saving practices are an important part of Duke's overall goals of sustainability.

"Duke has made water conservation a priority across campus, especially during the summer months," Capps said. "Facilities Management continues to lead this effort in many ways, using practical lawn care policies to focus on the most efficient use of this important resource."