I have been servicing and installing lawn sprinkler systems in IL for 17 years. Over that time period I have seen the concern about water shortages, and irrigation legislation increase yearly. The concern is legitimate because we have a finite supply of fresh water, and an ever increasing demand for that limited supply. Luckily for us we have Lake Michigan and huge underground water resources. But even with these resources water is still a big concern. Every year there are lawn sprinkler watering bands in affect in different cities, at different times, in an attempt to save water.
Last year was the worst drought I have seen. Unless you had a lawn sprinkler system or, you were watering your property every other day by hand, your lawn was burnt and dry. My company laid more new sod last year than in all the years I have been in business put together. Because of the drought and the lack of a lawn sprinkler system, most landscape plants were severely stressed and a lot died.
So obviously we are going to have to use the water we have wisely. This doesn’t mean we can’t have nice landscaping, or irrigation systems to keep our landscape healthy. It does mean that we shouldn’t ignore this problem. There are new technologies that address this issue without a big expense or drastic changes.
One thing I highly recommend is changing all sprinkler systems to smart controllers. If they are not already installed, it is easy to install. The best part is that they will save you between 25 to 50% on every water bill you get in the future, and will pay for itself in the first or second season. I have been building smart controller systems for years now and they are the only type of controller that I will use for a new lawn sprinkler installation.
Smart controllers have weather stations that are connected to the controller. The weather station can give the controller information like rain fall in inches, temperature, humidity, soil moisture content, Wind speed, amount of sunlight, evaporation rate for your zip code and even the weather forecast for you zip code. With this information the smart controller will calculate how much water it needs to keep your landscape healthy without over watering. Then change the sprinkler run times according to the actual conditions on your property.
This is far better than the old rain sensors that will only shut down a sprinkler after 1/ 2 inch of rain fall. I have seen many lawn sprinkler systems with rain sensors running during a rain storm, resulting in a waste of water and increased water run off which is a major factor in the pollution of our lakes, streams, rivers, and eventually the oceans.
My second recommendation is rain water recovery. This is accomplished by routing all down spouts and surface water into an underground tank Then, using this water to supplement your lawn sprinkler system by the use of a pump. This will reduce your landscape water bill by 10 to 25%. But the underground tank is expensive.
Another more practical version of this is the retention pond lake pump lawn sprinkler system. If you have a retention pond adjacent to your property this is free water with no ecological repercussions. This water is already run off with chemicals from lawns and gardens and it is nutrient enriched by plant fish and fowl. The only concern is often the home owners association will treat these retention ponds with algaecide. It is important to not water for at least 1 week after algaecide treatments as it is harmful to most landscape.
My third recommendation is that when it comes time to re- landscape your property, take a good look at drought tolerant plants. If you re make your landscape beds to be drought tolerant you can save 10 to 25% on your landscape water bill.
They require water to get established but after that not so much. Here is a list of my top ten favorite drought tolerant plants; Black-eyed Susan, Blanket Flower, Creeping Phlox, Coneflower, Coreopsis, Lamb's Ears, Penstemon, Russian Sage, Stone Crop, and yarrow.
For those of you that want to have a 100% IL native garden here are the top ten drought tolerant plants that are native to Illinois; Black Eyed Susan, Blazing Star, Butterfly Milkweed, Little Blue Stem Grass, New England Aster, Prairie Coreopsis, Prairie Drop Seed Grass, Wild Bergamot, Wild Petunia, and Yellow Cone Flower.
There are more drought tolerant plants that can work in Illinois but these are my favorite.