June 15, 2011
Tony DiGiovanni CHT
LO Executive Director

Those of you who are my age will remember the popular song, “You Don’t Miss Your Water (‘Til the Well Runs Dry).” This year, in the middle of one of the wettest springs on record, the well in South Ottawa went dry. A major water main break forced the city to declare a complete ban on outdoor watering during the construction period, estimated to end sometime this August or into the fall.

It is a rude wake-up call for the industry. Our members were forced to scramble to deal with cancelled landscape jobs. Garden centres are having difficulty selling inventory. Contractors are being forced to either delay jobs, or add the expense of trucking in water. Some homeowners refuse to pay to open their sprinkler systems, because they can’t be used.   

Tim Kearney, Bruce Morton, Sarah Johnston and I met with City of Ottawa officials to discuss how we could mitigate the damage caused by the water ban in South Ottawa. Our goal was to communicate the potential impact from the perspective of jobs, economy and environment, and to see if we could develop ideas to help. We asked them for:   
  • An exemption for new plantings. They told us that water capacity is down to 10 per cent. They simply cannot exempt new plantings, or introduce limited water use programs. The fear is that the present capacity would be overwhelmed, resulting in no water for drinking, cooking, washing and fire protection. The capacity issue is serious. Water for landscaping purposes must come from water trucks or collected rainwater.   
  • Support regarding the use of water trucks. They could not commit to this, because how much water is required is unknown and the scheduling logistics.
  • Support for the distribution of collapsible rain barrels that have three times the water capacity of traditional rain barrels. The city is offering a $50 rebate on each one distributed.    

On the positive side, we agreed to participate in a public education campaign. We created a website specifically for the issue at www.landscapeontario.com/south-ottawa-watering-ban. We co-hosted two “Gardening through a Water Ban” public seminars, featuring Ed Lawrence, Denis Flanagan and Nicholas Bott. We negotiated discounts with three LO members who own water trucks. We are supplying gardening experts to media outlets. We are encouraging members to offer watering and mulching services as business add-ons.   
The problem is all of these actions are reactionary. As an industry, we must become more proactive. Water is our most important resource.   

It does not make logical sense for municipalities to build a huge infrastructure to bring in treated water, when the bulk of it is wasted. We have the opportunity to solve some of these issues. Water harvesting design and techniques must become a priority for our industry. We must encourage the public and government to think about the importance of capturing water through the use of cisterns, barrels, water bags, grading, rain gardens, and plantings. We must remind site developers that the earth can absorb huge amounts of water, if we take care to encourage water percolation and prevent compaction. A tree is a vertical rain garden. Turf is one of the best ground covers to capture and filter water. We must find ways to use grey water and rainwater. Our plants prefer it anyway.      

We must encourage a new image for the horticulture industry. We are already agents of beauty. We must now become stewardship experts and professionals. We have a great role to play in how we capture and use water. We have an even bigger role to play in the mitigation of pollution, conserving our energy, cleaning our air and generally enhancing our environment.    

And speaking of environment, watch your mail for information about the National Plastics Recycling event June 21 to July 4. Over 20 of our members have agreed to accept plastic from customers and other members. This is the pilot for a permanent solution to our industry’s waste plastic. 
Tony DiGiovanni may be reached at tonydigiovanni@landscapeontario.com.