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A Stormwater Engineer's Approach to a Water-Wise Lawn

In 2012 my family and I moved into a typical golf course community in Central Texas that was adorned with St. Augustine grass as far you could see. Although it looked nice, the environmentalist in me was almost embarrassed to be moving into an area where more water is spent on watering the lawns than in the individual homes. Central Texas was in the midst of a horrible drought so I couldn’t comprehend spending potable water on grass when our water supply reservoir had only a two-year supply.

Meeting in the Middle
After a couple of years of nasty looks from the neighbors for not keeping up with the neighborhood's lush-lawn look, we took our first steps to meet in the middle. We developed a plan to remove a lot of the water-loving sod, replace it with mulch, rock beds and native plantings, but still blend with surrounding neighbors.

There were many places in the yard that were not shaded, so we aligned the beds and xeriscaped areas with these locations. To have water to feed the new plants and trees during drought and the long summer months, we installed roof gutters to capture roof runoff and drain to two 250-gallon rain barrels on the back side of the house. We oriented the overflow pipes from the barrels to run parallel to the roof lines so we could continue to water the foundation. On the front of the house the gutters drain to catch basins at the end of the downspouts. The catch basins connect to perforated PVC pipe and run the length of our mulch beds to water the native plants and our foundation.

Addressing Drainage
We also had a drainage problem in our backyard and driveway since our lot is so flat. We removed the soil and sod in the area where our new deck would be installed. Then we installed a rock infiltration trench and perforated PVC pipe to pick up excess runoff. All drain to an infiltration rock bed just upstream of the driveway. Now during frequent rain storms we no longer have standing water in our backyard and the driveway no longer pools water since it receives less.

We considered installing a French drain in the backyard and a grate across the driveway to drain the water off of our site, but the infiltration trench option was not only cheaper, it resulted in a more sustainable design by retaining the water on site, allowing it to infiltrate into the ground and be cleaned through natural infiltration processes.

Now that the major design features are in place, I have reached the point where I want to make sure I’m making the most out of the system, so we’re shopping for solar sump pumps for the rain barrels; then I can connect a water hose to the barrel and be able to water the sod that is left in the yard and various plantings. Right now I just drag my five-gallon bucket around, and even though it works, it’s time to make things a bit more efficient.

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