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Water wisdom: Guide outlines framework for water-efficient landscapes




Spring has come to Big Sky. The signs are everywhere.

And with the warmer weather, the season to plan and plant outdoor landscapes and gardens has arrived. The new “Big Sky Water Wise Landscaping Guide,” published by the Gallatin River Task Force, outlines a sustainable strategy for landscape, design, installation and maintenance that conserves water and protects rivers.

“It’s especially important to pay attention to your water use during the summer,” said Emily Casey, who is the author of the landscape guide. “Water conservation can relieve the stress of high temperatures, low precipitation rates, and reduced streamflows to help ensure water supply when the watershed needs it most.”

Today, many landscapes in Big Sky waste water through inefficient irrigation or inappropriate plant selection. Between 2003 and 2017, public water usage in June, July and August surpassed consumption during the other nine months of the year by an average of 400 percent, according to the Big Sky Water and Sewer District. During that period, demand for landscape water peaked in 2017 when summer usage exceeded winter by 800 percent.

Although thirst for water is growing with Big Sky, an arid climate and periodic drought constrain the supply. During the dry southwest Montana summer, melting snow feeds rivers, streams and groundwater, but warming trends could reduce snowpack and water levels. In addition, increasing consumption of groundwater could deplete streamflows further, impacting both fish and wildlife.

Given these challenges, reducing water use will help to sustain both human and natural communities in Big Sky. And when it comes to saving water, our landscapes, lawns and gardens represent the proverbial low-hanging fruit.

The landscape guide, written with the assistance of local nurseries, landscapers, irrigators and conservation organizations, adapts the seven xeriscape principles developed in Denver in the mid-90s to local climate and soils. These principles optimize water use while maintaining healthy, attractive and cost-effective landscapes.

Community members can pick up a free copy of the guide at the Task Force office and start saving water today. Many neighborhood covenants in Big Sky have specific lawn requirements that may be an obstacle to implementing water-wise practices. If this is the case, contact the Task Force to advocate to amend homeowner’s association covenants to conserve water.

Each yard and landscape in Big Sky is located within the Gallatin or Madison watersheds. All activities on the land affect both surface and groundwater.

To view the water-wise planning guide online, visit

Stephanie Lynn is the education and communications coordinator for the Gallatin River Task Force.

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