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Thirsty yards: trees and yard irrigation in the semi-arid West

Authors: Austin Troy*, University of Colorado - Denver, Gretel Follingstad, University of Colorado Denver, Robert Taylor, University of Colorado Denver
Topics: Environment, Water Resources and Hydrology
Keywords: Water consumption, urban trees, yard irrigation
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This research relates water use to yard vegetation characteristics for residential properties in the greater Denver area. We assess the extent to which trees drive residential yard water consumption, how that varies with age and species of trees, and whether tree shade may help mitigate yard turf irrigation. Our analysis characterizes tree shade and tree size using LiDAR data and vegetative composition using high resolution color infrared aerial imagery. Monthly parcel-level water consumption comes from several local utilities. Our preliminary findings suggest that tree canopy is associated with increased irrigation, but at a lesser rate per unit area than turf, and that smaller, younger trees use proportionally more water per unit area than mature trees, possibly because owners tend to overwater younger, more recently established trees. Most important, we find that tree shade can significantly mitigate yard irrigation where there is turf underneath. These preliminary results suggest that for those homeowners who wish to maintain lush lawns, shade-producing canopy trees may serve to save more water than they use in some conditions. Results also suggest that it is possible that areas with large number of young, recently planted trees, such as new subdivisions, may see a pulse of increased water demand for young trees as a result in the shorter-term, but that as these trees mature, that demand may level off. We also briefly present how this research is aiding us in creating a residential irrigation demand forecasting model that will help local water utilities plan for future development.

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