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Tax funds nurture gardens' water-saving message

Published December 15, 2011 9:25 am

Conservation • Education is district's key tool in reducing landscaping waste.
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Two of every three gallons of drinking water that the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District supplies to 600,000 people in the Salt Lake Valley is used to irrigate lawns.

That's way too much, said Bart Forsyth, assistant manager of the agency, which aims to reduce demand for its water 25 percent by 2025 at the same time the population it serves on the west side of the valley is surging.

The district seems on its way to meeting its goal. Per-capita water use in 2000 was 255 gallons. A decade later, consumption was 209 gallons per person. Thirteen years from now, it is expected to fall to 191 gallons, Forsyth said.

A key vehicle for the district's conservation campaign is the Jordan Valley Conservation Gardens — more than 7 acres of land in West Jordan to showcase landscaping techniques that homeowners can use to cut water use.

"We will not be able to meet our water conservation goal without significant changes in the way we landscape, and also without changes in the way we apply water to our land. About 65 percent of all drinking water that we deliver is used for outdoor purposes — in particular, landscaping purposes," said Forsyth, who also is president of the Jordan Valley Conservation Gardens Foundation.

The foundation raises money from public and private sources to support the district's efforts to reduce the demand for water, most of which is piped via the Provo Reservoir Canal and the Jordan Aqueduct from the Provo River watershed. This year, Salt Lake County has signed off on a $13,249 grant through the Zoo, Arts and Parks (ZAP) program for the foundation. The ZAP money will be used to make additional improvements at the gardens, an enterprise that has been built in phases over the past decade.

Each year, county taxpayers spend millions of dollars on museums, theaters, orchestras, ballet companies and other organizations through the voter-approved ZAP tax. Consumers pay an extra penny on every $10 in sales, propping up organizations ranging from the Repertory Dance Theatre in Salt Lake City to the botanical garden in West Jordan, where close to 800 varieties of water-stingy plants grow.

The gardens have received ZAP funds each year since 2008, said Victoria Panella Bourns, who runs the program for Salt Lake County.

"The ZAP program has advisory boards that review all of the applications and make recommendations to the Salt Lake County Council for approval. What the advisory board [that judged the foundation's 2011 application] liked was the goal of education and working with the schools," Bourns said.

Speaking as a private citizen, Bourns said she loves the gardens. She and her husband visited them long before the foundation received its first grant. She later bought a hawthorn tree for her small yard because it grows quickly and needs water only once a month. Bourns also bought a grass variety that grows in clumps and sends up tall stems. She is considering whether to buy a few dwarf fruit trees that can be trained to grow in a flat plane against a wall.

"The gardens help you to see what [landscaping] you can do in this environment," Bourns said.

Forsyth said the gardens have exceeded the district's expectations when it began planning them in 1999. Roughly 25,000 people visit annually. That number is expected to double after a new 11,000-square-foot education center opens unofficially next month.

"For the most part, these grants have been used to enhance the operation of the gardens, in particular to enhance the educational content and experience to our visitors. We are going to use this [latest] grant to add education in the way of signage and 'interpretive elements,' " he said, adding that the ZAP funds will be mixed with private donations.

The interpretive elements Forsyth envisions include displays that show homeowners how to make the best use of sun angles, wind directions and drainages when landscaping their properties.

"We have a wonderful community education facility and venue for events and activities," Forsyth said. "I don't think that the gardens and the education center are going to become less important as time goes by. Our water resources are limited, and the garden provides the information needed to utilize [them] more efficiently."

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