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Water Wednesday

May 15, 2024 - Xeriscaping 101

As water scarcity becomes a reality in southern Alberta, more people are curious about Xeriscaping. But what is it, exactly?

"Remember that xeriscaping and zeroscaping are not the same,” says Kathleen Sheppard, Executive Director of Environment Lethbridge. “Xeriscaping replaces water intensive landscaping, like lawns, with drought tolerant plant species. Zeroscaping uses rock and gravel and can actually have a negative impact because it increases runoff during rain events."

There are seven principles of xeriscaping. Let’s explore them.

1. Plan & Design: You wouldn’t build a home without blueprints. So don’t create a landscape without a plan. No two yards are the same. Take time to understand your layout and how to incorporate water-conserving techniques and vegetation. There are many factors to consider, including topography, sun exposure and prevailing winds.

2. Improve the Soil: The goal is to have soil that simultaneously drains quickly and stores water. Adding compost to your soil will help it hold moisture. Supporting the growth of new plants’ roots system is also key. Loosening the soil allows water and air to access the roots.

3. Vegetation: Choosing what vegetation to plant, and how, is important. Use drought-resistant plants that are native to your area. Their deep roots can access more sub-surface moisture than non-native plants. Have a plan for the location of specific plants. Organizing plants according to their water needs allows for more efficient water usage.

4. Turf Areas: Turf is important. It’s a good area for kids to play, it helps cool the environment and it reduces sun glare. But other ground cover plants perform similar functions, so you can aim to reduce your turf surface area. Many southern Alberta yards feature Kentucky Blue Grass. Consider switching to a more water-efficient option like fine fescues or rye grass. When watering turf, be sure to avoid runoff.

5. Irrigation: Use soaker hoses or a drip-irrigation system to avoid overwatering. These target the base of a plant, ensuring the best water efficiency. As with any outdoor watering, set your timers to water early in the morning or at night to reduce water loss through evaporation. Don’t know how much water to use on your plants? You should notice a bit of wilting during the peak heat of the day, and back to full perkiness as temperatures cool.

6. Mulch: Soil needs all the protection it can get. Use mulch to help your soil retain moisture and limit competing weed growth. Organic mulches include wood chips, leaves and grass clippings. These will incorporate with the soil over time, so be sure to top it up every so often. Inorganic mulches include rock, gravel and fabricated metals. You’ll need between three to six inches of mulch to maximize its effectiveness.

7. Maintenance: While it is a low maintenance option, xeriscaping isn’t a “set it and forget it” approach. Monitor each plant to ensure it receives the proper mixture of water and sunshine. Tall grass is a natural mulch, so keep your turf at least two-and-a-half to three inches high.

Xeriscaping shouldn’t feel like a daunting task. You can start small and expand it over time.

"You don't have to xeriscape your entire yard all at once,” says Kathleen Sheppard. “As an intermediary step, try converting a small patch of lawn to something more drought tolerant. Or plant some native wildflowers instead of petunias."

You can view this brochure, from the Helen Schuler Nature Centre, for more details on the seven principles of xeriscaping.

Previous Water Wednesday stories

April 3, 2024 - Bathroom Conservation

Welcome to the first instalment of Water Wednesday. This weekly series will provide information, conservation tips and expert analysis on all things ‘water’ in the Lethbridge area. We begin the series with a look at water conservation in a typical Lethbridge home.

Almost half of all home water usage occurs in the bathroom. From detecting and fixing toilet leaks to optimizing shower and bath routines, every drop saved translates to significant savings and conservation.

For the sake of this story, we will provide context for a family of four. We’ll call them the Hendersons. We uncover a few simple yet effective ways the Hendersons can conserve water and lower their utility bill. The information provided here is based on the April 2024 City of Lethbridge residential water rate of $1.327 per cubic meter.

Toilets are often the source of unnoticed leaks. Not only are they wasteful, they’re also expensive! A leaky toilet can waste upwards of 1,000 litres of water every day. This equates to almost $500 a year in water costs. Thankfully, as this video shows, discovering a leak is both quick and simple!

“A leaky toilet uses an immense amount of water that you’re paying for,” says Kathleen Sheppard, Executive Director of Environment Lethbridge. “Don’t forget to check all your toilets for leaks, even that one in the guest bathroom that no one uses.”

Lowering your cost-per-flush is another way to save and conserve. According to a report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), toilets older than 20 years typically flush with 13 to 20 litres of water. Installing a WaterSense® toilet ensures no more than 4.8 litres per flush. Assuming the Hendersons each flush the toilet twice daily they could reduce their water bill and usage by more than 70 per cent.

According to Sheppard, the average shower uses almost 10 litres of water per minute. That means a typical eight-minute shower uses a whopping 80 litres of water!

If each member of the Henderson family showers once a day, that’s around $155 a year in water costs. If the Hendersons reduce their showers to six minutes, the annual price drops to around $116. And if they can each get clean in five minutes? That’s around $97 a year, a savings of more than 37 per cent!

“We all love the feeling of a nice hot shower but cutting it a few minutes short is a great way to save water,” says Sheppard. “Use a timer or a short playlist to make sure you meet your goal.”

A low flow shower head also lowers consumption. It reduces usage to approximately 7.5 litres per minute. This would result in the Hendersons paying only $72.50 a year for their daily five-minute cleansing sessions. That’s less than half their original amount!

However, let’s assume the Hendersons prefer daily baths. According to the CMHC report, a typical bath uses at least 150 litres of water. This would add up to 4,200 litres of water usage a week, removing around $290 a year from the Hendersons’ bank account. While there are exceptions, baths typically use a lot more water than showers. But if you prefer baths, try soaking in less water or consider reducing your soaks to every other day.

Using a few easy conservation methods in the family bathroom, the Hendersons could save upwards of $800 a year. They could also conserve around 315 cubic meters (that’s 315,000 litres!) of water.

Next week’s Water Wednesday will cut costs and conserve water in the Hendersons’ kitchen.

April 10, 2024 - Kitchen Conservation

Welcome back to Water Wednesday. Last week, we saved our family of four (the Hendersons) upwards of $800 a year and conserved around 315,000 litres of water in their bathroom. This week, we move to their kitchen. A report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) shows kitchen water accounts for about 15 per cent of indoor water use. A few small behaviour changes can lead to big savings. The information provided here is based on the April 2024 City of Lethbridge residential water rate of $1.327 per cubic meter.

“It might seem counterintuitive, but modern dishwashers are so efficient that they actually use less water than washing by hand, as long as you fill them up,” says Kathleen Sheppard, Executive Director of Environment Lethbridge.

Handwashing dishes can use upwards of 100 litres of water per load. Let’s say the Hendersons wash breakfast and dinner dishes every day. That adds up to around 73,000 litres of water every year. That number is easily reduceable.

  • Fill one sink halfway for washing and the other halfway for rinsing.
  • Only using one sink? Use a dish rack for washed dishes then rinse them together with one spray of water.
  • Avoid continuously running the water for rinsing.

A dishwasher is a better option. Older model dishwashers use upwards of 22 litres of water per load. Assuming one full load per day, the Hendersons’ machine would use around 8,030 litres of water every year. That’s 89 per cent less water usage than hand washing. And that number shrinks even more with an efficient dishwasher. As of July 2023, an ENERGY STAR® certified dishwasher cannot use more than 12.11 litres of water per cycle. A daily load now results in only 4,420 litres of water per year. If the Hendersons move from hand washing to an efficient dishwasher, they reduce their annual water usage (and costs!) by 94 per cent!

The Hendersons love using their garburator after every meal. But that convenience comes with a cost.

“Garbage disposals use a lot of water,” says Sheppard. “The best thing you can do is put your food waste in your green bin, which saves water and turns your food waste into compost.”

According to Sheppard, a garburator uses up to 8.5 litres of water per minute. If the Hendersons ditched their disposal, they could conserve upwards of 9,300 litres of water per year.

Reducing your faucet’s flow rate will also shrink you water bill. A standard kitchen faucet can flow at around eight litres per minute. If the Hendersons run their kitchen faucet for five minutes a day, that’s 14,600 litres of water every year. New federal standards will lower flow rates to a maximum of 6.8 litres per minute. That would conserve more than 2,100 litres of water with one faucet alone.

There are several other ways the Henderson can conserve water in their kitchen, including:

  • Installing a hot water dispenser.
  • Repairing faucet and plumbing leaks.
  • Keeping a jug of cold water in the fridge.
  • Not using water to defrost frozen foods.

These slight changes can conserve more than 80,000 litres of water. That’s a reduction of more than 83 per cent, or the amount needed to fill an average six-person hot tub around 55 times.  It would also save the Henderson family more than $110 over the course of a year.

Next week, we tackle the Hendersons’ laundry room!

April 17, 2024 - Laundry Room Conservation

Welcome to another edition of Water Wednesday. Last week, a few easy changes saved the Hendersons more than $100 a year in their kitchen water use. They also conserved around 80,000 litres of water. This week, we help the family of four do the same in their laundry room. The information provided here is based on the April 2024 City of Lethbridge residential water rate of $1.327 per cubic meter.

Washing machines are water intensive. Modern standard washers use an average of 75.5 litres per load. Efficiently filling each load can save the Hendersons water and money. Washing full loads should be the goal, but there are other options.

“In addition to always running full loads, the other thing you can do is learn the settings on your washing machine,” says Kathleen Sheppard, Executive Director of Environment Lethbridge. “Many machines adjust the water used for the size of the load. All you have to do is program it.”

Running one full load per day would cost the Hendersons at least $36.50 a year in water alone. When you factor in other costs like energy (for hot water) and detergent, the cost-per-load is around $1.35. Add it all up, and the Hendersons are paying around $500 a year for this daily chore. They’re also using more than 27,500 litres of water.

If the Hendersons can drop to five full loads per week, they would save around $150 a year and conserve almost 8,000 litres of water.

As we’ve seen with low flow showerheads and faucets, increasing your washer’s efficiency is key. High-efficiency (HE) washers use an average of around 53 litres per load. That would reduce the Hendersons’ water use by almost 30 per cent. At five loads per week, the Hendersons would save almost $50 a year while conserving another 5,900 litres of water!

To maximize water efficiency, the Hendersons could explore a front-loading HE washer. The most efficient models use as little as 26.5 litres per load. Let’s do more math. If the Hendersons move from seven loads per week with a modern standard washer, to five loads per week with a front-loading HE machine, they would save $375 while using only 6,890 litres of water. That means their annual at-home laundry bills drops to $125 and they conserve an amazing 20,600 litres of water. That’s enough to fill their summertime kiddie pool more than 100 times!

Grease. Grass. Food. Oil. Makeup. All things that can wreak havoc on our clothing.

“There’s nothing more frustrating than pulling an item from the washing machine and seeing a stain,” says Sheppard. “Pretreating makes sure you only have to wash items once. This saves water and extends the life of your clothes.”

The key to pretreating a stain is quick action. There are several ways to attack a fresh stain. Some can be removed using home remedies like a cold-water soak or a combination of vinegar and baking soda. Tougher stains may need a few squirts of commercial pre-treater. Whichever method you choose, pretreating a stain can help ensure it’s removed in a single wash.

There are several other ways the Henderson can conserve water in their laundry room, including:

  • Re-using towels and wearing clothes more than once. You can use a shower towel multiple times before it needs a wash. And if you aren’t playing in the dirt, hang your jeans and t-shirt back in the closet.
  • Avoid using the ‘extra rinse’ feature. If you use the correct amount of detergent, your machine’s default rinse cycle should suffice.
  • Check for leaks. As we’ve seen in the bathroom and kitchen, leaks are costly. Regularly examine your washer’s hoses.

Next week, we will examine ways the Hendersons can conserve water and save money in their yard.

April 24, 2024 - Outdoor Conservation

Welcome to another edition of Water Wednesday. Last week, we examined water conservation in the laundry room. We saved the Henderson family of four at least $375 and helped them conserve a minimum 20,600 litres of water a year. This week, we are moving outdoors. The information provided here is based on the April 2024 City of Lethbridge residential water rate of $1.327 per cubic meter.

A standard oscillating lawn sprinkler can use up to 1,800 litres of water every hour. If you water three times per week, that's about 21,600 litres a month. Over a full summer, that number jumps to almost 70,000 litres. That removes more than $90 from the Hendersons’ summertime fun budget. So how do they avoid it?

Simply put: water less.

“Most lawns are overwatered,” says Kathleen Sheppard, Executive Director of Environment Lethbridge. “If you must water your lawn, use a timer to limit the amount of water you’re using.”

Overwatering the lawn can rot the roots, killing the grass. A wet, muddy lawn can also suffocate. If you aren’t sure whether your lawn is hydrated, walk across it. If the grass rebounds when you step on it, it’s likely well-hydrated and doesn’t need water.

Watering at the right time is also key. The Hendersons should avoid watering in the heat of the day. The ideal times to water are before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m. This can save up to 50 per cent of the water that might otherwise be lost to evaporation. And, of course, watch out for southern Alberta wind. It can carry away most of the water meant for your lawn and garden. Finally, take advantage of free water. Keep the sprinklers off when Mother Nature provides rain.

Use mulch to keep water in the soil and prevent evaporation. Spread mulch around the base of trees, shrubs, perennials and even in your vegetable garden. A good layer of mulch can reduce the Hendersons’ watering needs by up to 55 per cent.

“Mulching is one of the best ways to keep water in the soil,” says Sheppard. “For your lawn, grasscycling, or leaving grass cutting on your lawn after you mow, provides the same benefits and adds nutrients to your soil.”

Mulch comes in many forms. Some organic options include wood chips, straw and leaves. Inorganic mulches include rock and gravel. Plan to use between three to six inches of mulch to maximize its effectiveness.

The City of Lethbridge offers free much to residents. It can be picked up at Peenaquim Park, while supplies are available.

A freshly mowed lawn may look and smell great, but it’s not ideal for water consumption. A longer lawn shades the soil, helping retain moisture. Mowing less can also allow the roots to dive deeper into the soil for water and nutrients. The ideal height for most southern Alberta grass is between 7.5 and 10 centimeters.

Choosing a drought-resistant grass is also important in southern Alberta’s climate. Look for grass seeds that include Tall Fescue, Fine Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass. Drought-tolerant grasses not only survive dry spells – they can even retain their green colour! Planting the grass in early fall or spring will help speed up seed germination, ensuring a healthier lawn.

There is an easy opportunity for the Hendersons to conserve water and save money outdoors. The combination of a longer, drought-resistant lawn and the use of mulch could reduce their watering to one day per week. That would conserve around 46,000 litres of water and save the family upwards of $60 over the course of a summer.

The Hendersons use other water-smart methods to conserve water in their yard:

  • Collecting rainwater for use in their garden.
  • Watering the base of their plants, rather than pouring the water on top.
  • Hydrozoning their garden: grouping plants with similar water requirements together, with plants requiring less water placed further away from the water source.
  • Sweeping outdoor areas instead of hosing them down.

Next week, we take the Hendersons’ water conservation efforts into their workplace.

May 1, 2024 - Workplace Conservation

Welcome to the latest edition of Water Wednesday. During the past four weeks, we’ve saved the Henderson family of four more than $1,200 in annual home water costs. We’ve also helped them conserve more than 460,000 litres of water. This week, the conservation efforts shift to the work environment.

“Many of the water tips for your home apply at work as well,” says Kathleen Sheppard, Executive Director of Environment Lethbridge. “Try identifying three or four shared priorities for your workplace and have everyone commit to them.”

Leading by example is key. It doesn’t matter whether you are a small startup or a huge organization. Showing commitment to water conservation can encourage employees to follow suit. Consider undergoing a water conservation audit to capture current usage. Use the results to identify easy conservation options. Do another audit six months later to gauge the success of your efforts.

Company bathrooms provide a lot of conservation opportunities. Water-saving technologies, including sensor-based faucets and low-flow toilets, are a great way to reduce water usage. Be sure to also monitor for leaking faucets and toilets.

Use visual reminders to educate your teams about water conservation. Consider signage to help get the message across. Stickers in bathrooms or kitchens to turn off the tap can help conserve water.

Provide training opportunities for team members. Arm your team with the knowledge they need to create an office ‘green team’. They can be great allies to track water usage at your workplace and suggest improvements.

Who doesn’t love a fun workplace challenge? Create fun, team-building competitions related to water conservation. Which team can reduce its water usage the most within a certain time frame? Who can develop the best water reduction initiative for the office? Be sure to celebrate successes. Company-branded reusable water bottles are a great prize for the winning team.

Look for opportunities to take water education outside the office. Organize a river valley cleanup, tour a local water facility or schedule a workshop with local experts. Discuss how to use your learnings in the office.

Water coolers aren’t only a good place to catch up on bingeworthy Netflix shows. They’re also a great way to prevent excessive running of the tap. Companies can install water dispensers capable of filling large containers or jugs.

If your office has a fridge, commit to keeping a jug (or two) of cold water at all times. This way, you aren’t wasting water while waiting for the tap to turn cold.

Manage outdoor water usage. Like at home, there are several ways a workplace can reduce the amount of water it uses outside. Replace lawns with ornamental grass or other options requiring less water. Ensure your sprinklers aren’t watering lawns and gardens, not pavement. Collect rainwater to reuse for all outdoor watering needs.   

This concludes our five-part series examining water conservation tips at home and at work. Beginning next week, Water Wednesday shifts to individual stories highlighting all things water. If you have a story idea, send us a direct message on the “City of Lethbridge- City Hall” Facebook page.

May 8, 2024 - Water Conservation FAQs

As summer approaches, we know the community has a lot of questions about water scarcity. Answers to most of these questions are in the Water Conservation Plan and Strategy (WCPAS). We’re using this week’s Water Wednesday to answer some of the more common inquiries.

Are restrictions currently in place?


As of May 15, 2024, the City of Lethbridge has not implemented the Water Rationing Action Plan (WRAP). An updated version of the WRAP includes new reduction targets and violation charges. The proposed bylaw amendment for the WRAP goes to City Council on May 14 for further discussion. Meanwhile, we ask the community to continue voluntary conservation efforts.

Many factors will contribute to any future restrictions. These include reservoir levels, mountain snowpack measurements, the water supply outlook and the discretion of the Engineer. On April 19, the province announced voluntary water-sharing agreements (WSA). Major water license holders in southern Alberta (including the City of Lethbridge) agree to cut water use during severe droughts. Lethbridge’s WSA is with the City of Medicine Hat, Lethbridge County and the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District. Once activated, it’s anticipated the WSA will move Lethbridge to Stage One of the WRAP. This could happen by the end of May.

Am I allowed to water my vegetable garden?


We understand the importance and prevalence of vegetable gardens in Lethbridge. When using a sprinkler, focus on high value assets like food producing gardens and trees. Outdoor watering restrictions in the WRAP aim to avoid runoff to ditches, swales, storm drains and gutters. The outdoor restrictions do not include using handheld containers to water outdoors until Stage Four.

Will the City provide rain barrels?

The WCPAS features economic measures to help invest in water conservation. This includes incentive programs for rain barrels. The City will not provide rain barrels. Instead, future available grant money can offer rebates. Rebate programs are also planned for water efficient toilets and xeriscaping. The City will release details once funding information is available.

How are irrigation districts affected?

Southern Alberta agriculture producers are doing their part to conserve water. Water allocation for the St. Mary River Irrigation District and Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District is currently set at eight inches per acre. This represents an approximately 50 per cent reduction from normal, highlighting their dedication to ensuring sufficient water supplies across southern Alberta.

Are local golf courses included in water conservation and restrictions?

The City of Lethbridge does not have oversight of water usage by local golf courses. Some courses have individual licenses through the province. Others receive their water from the St. Mary’s River Irrigation District or the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District. As an example, Henderson Lake Golf Course receives its water from Henderson Lake, supplied through the St. Mary’s River Irrigation District. The province continues to encourage all water license holders in the Oldman River Basin (including local golf courses) to meet the same requirements as the signatories to the Oldman River Basin Water Sharing Agreement, including the City of Lethbridge.

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