Rockne Roll / News-Register##Amity School District lawns were allowed to go dormant this summer. Steve Park, head of maintenance, says he doesn’t plan to water
before school begins. “Once it starts raining, that grass will green up fast,” he said. Football
and soccer fields have been irrigated since mid-August.
Rockne Roll / News-Register##Amity School District lawns were allowed to go dormant this summer. Steve Park, head of maintenance, says he doesn’t plan to water before school begins. “Once it starts raining, that grass will green up fast,” he said. Football and soccer fields have been irrigated since mid-August.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Schools, cities cut back on water

But this year’s extremely hot, dry weather has made the practice much more necessary and much more widespread. Schools have stopped watering most of their fields, as well, although most have been able to keep sports practice fields in usable condition. The exception: Yamhill-Carlton School District, which cannot water its soccer fields at the elementary school in Carlton, since that city has a strict ban on outdoor watering.

Carlton is short on water because of a reservoir is blocked with silt as well as drought-related problems. 

The situation is less dire in other area cities. They haven’t enacted restrictions, but, like the school districts, have redoubled their efforts to save water. Citizens have been helping, officials in Yamhill, Sheridan and other cities said.

Like the schools, the cities are following policies they already had in place for conserving water and delivering it a way that reduces evaporation and maintains plant health.

The City of McMinnville, for instance, applies no more water than absolutely necessary to its fields and parks, said David Renshaw, director of public works.

“Watering is very carefully monitored and adjusted for the weather,” he said. “We want to be as responsible as we can be.”

Newer plantings, flowers and ornamental plants get enough to keep them growing, but grass in some of the city’s smaller parks isn’t watered all. The primary soccer and softball fields in Joe Dancer Park  were irrigated throughout the summer playing season to keep the ground springy for the safety of the players, said Lynette Noble, parks supervisor. Watering also helps the grass remain strong enough to elbow out weeds as well as to stand up to hard use.

Popular parks such as Discovery Meadows get water, too. Jay Pearson, director of McMinnville Parks and Recreation, said his department wants to make sure they’re in good shape to accommodate a variety of uses in the summer — picnicking families, walkers, playing children, disc golfers, etc.

“We want them to be safe and beautiful, while we’re still being conscious of being good stewards of our resources,” he said.

Noble, who has 30 years experience with the city’s parks, chooses efficient equipment and makes sure it’s used at the right time for maximum effect. And when an aging pipe or valve breaks, she said, it gets fixed right away so water isn’t lost.

She said the city parks staff members are well-trained to understand water usage and stewardship. As nights become cooler and darkness starts falling sooner, she said, they will be able to start turning off some of its irrigation systems.

Cooler afternoon temperatures and some rain would help, too, she said.

“The first soccer game is Sept. 19, so we’ll probably have rain that day,” she joked.

McMinnville School District allowed most grassy areas to go dormant over the summer, although they are being “greened up” as the school year approaches.

Pete Keenan, who became the district’s facility director in May, said watering resumed in mid-August on a limited basis. “We need to green up lawns for aesthetics and to make the grass sturdier,” he said, noting that thousands of young feet will be running and walking on that grass come Sept. 8.

Sprinklers are turned on for a short period twice a week and aimed at areas where they’ll do the most good. “We’re trying to save as much as possible,” he said.

“We maintain our sprinklers and timers” carefully, he said. “What we don’t want is sprinklers going all day during the heat.”

Over the summer, Keenan said, his staff kept ornamental plants, especially young ones, watered in an effort to maintain their health. They received water twice a week, at night, to maximize the effect.

A few bushes and trees died, although he’s not sure if lack of water was the culprit.  “I think we’ve done a pretty good job of not losing things and (thereby) incurring more costs to replace them,” he said.

The district also has been watering its athletic fields for practices and fall sports.

“For safety as well as looks,” Keenan said, and, once again, to make the grass sturdy enough to stand up to the pounding of a game or a match.

Mac High’s football field isn’t getting any water, though — and the artificial turf doesn’t need any.

Dayton High School also has artificial turf on its high school football field, and its baseball and softball infields as well. Its well-used grass soccer fields and the football practice field were irrigated from wells over the summer.

District officials said C&D Landscape contracts with the district to keep fields and lawns in shape. The company is diligent about conserving water.

With school opening in two weeks, they’ve started to water dormant lawns to be greener and softer for students arriving at the grade school, junior high and high school.

The Amity School District’s lawns also are dormant, but Steve Park, head of maintenance, said he’s not planning to water them before classes start. Instead, he’ll let them wait for a change in the weather.

“Once it starts raining, that grass will green up fast,” he said.

Park and his staff have kept the Amity High football and soccer fields green this summer by applying water from a trio of irrigation wells.

On the football field, he’s also been trying a method recommended by the Oregon State University Turf Management Program: mowing twice a week, instead of once. The short clippings remain on the ground, creating a natural mulch that helps retain water.

“It also helps keep the grass from going into stress mode,” Park said. “It seems to be helping.”

Park started watering the high school and middle school practice fields in mid-August to soften the turf for returning players. The dormant grass responded quickly, starting to turn green within a week.

In Sheridan, the city park has been green all summer. The city continued watering the park, in addition to its hanging flower baskets,  to make it nice for families that want to relax and children who want to play.

But that’s about the only green place around, City Manager Frank Sheridan said.

Residents have voluntarily cut back on their water use, he said, and he’s always happy to see the community conserving water by choice.

“There’s not a green lawn in town,” he said proudly.

Citizens’ voluntary reductions have helped assure that the city has a good supply of treated water, he said.

The city draws water from the Yamhill River all year, and in summer supplements that with a supply from springs in the hills. “In July and August, we get about 30 percent of our water from the springs,” Sheridan said.

He worried last week when shifting winds pushed the Willamina Creek Fire within two miles of the city’s reservoir on Stoney Mountain and the water line leading into town. Fortunately, the winds shifted again Friday, lessening the threat.

If the fire had reached the reservoir, Sheridan said, the city might have needed to shut off that supply, reducing the amount of water available.

Yamhill also has made it most of summer without water problems, thanks to good stewardship by users and an adequate flow from its supply creek, said Richard Howard, director of public works.

“A lot of people here been conserving,” he said, joking that water rates encourage that. “In summer, they don’t want to pay to keep their lawns green.”

When he took the job in Yamhill 12 years ago, Howard visited the city’s major water users to talk to them about their lawns and fields. “I showed them how they can cut back and still keep their grass in good condition,” he said.

His advice: Give plants a drink in the evening so the moisture doesn’t evaporate and the wet leaves aren’t burned by the hot sun. Lawns need only one inch of water a week — easily measured with a repurposed tuna can — preferably delivered in three or four increments.

Before he educated users, “a lot of them had been watering during the day, just turning on water and not monitoring the sprinklers,” he said. When they switched to his methods, usage dropped, saving customers money and decreasing the amount of water the city needs to treat.

As of Aug. 19, enough water was flowing into the system for the city to maintain its supply.

But he’s still watching the weather. He said it’s possible that he will need to dip into the city’s emergency supply for the first time. Only if that happens will he consider restrictions.

Although it’s just down the road from Yamhill, Carlton is in a vastly different situation when it comes to water.

Carlton’s reservoir on Panther Creek, west of town, is 60 percent blocked by silt and dirt from slides, city officials said. Coupled with prolonged hot, dry weather, the lack of supply led the city to shut down outdoor water use earlier this month almost entirely.

Neither residents nor city workers are allowed to water grass or wash vehicles or pavement, although gardens and shrubs can be watered every other day, based on odd or even addresses.

The water restrictions worry the Yamhill-Carlton School District, which cannot water its soccer fields at the elementary school in Carlton. “They’re hard as concrete,” said Superintendent Charan Cline.

Lawns at the schools in Yamhill are brown, too. But the district is able to take proper care of its athletic facilities, watering practice fields daily now that athletes are preparing for the season.

And the Y-C High football field is getting water twice a day, at midnight and 4 a.m. The field was refurbished and replanted in spring, Cline said. Watering is critical so the new grass can become well-established.

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