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Have You Been Audited?

By Donnetta Wilhelm, Colorado Master Gardener

Tax season is finished. Now let the audits begin. Cambridge Dictionary defines an audit to be an official examination of the quality or condition of something. In this case, an audit of a watered landscape is a good way to use water wisely.



Spring start-up is the time to check the overall health of a sprinkler system. Invest the time to inspect for leaks, broken sprinkler heads, misaligned nozzles, missing emitters, overspray, low or blocked heads, clogged nozzles, misting, broken pipes, broken valves, improper pressure, and incorrect head or nozzle type. It is a lot to inspect, but the EPA estimates that a landscape irrigation system that isn’t properly maintained and operated can waste up to 25,000 gallons of water annually.i

CSU offers a do-it-yourself tutorial, inspection information and helpful audit tips. Front Range

municipalities also offer helpful irrigation tips.

A full water audit will also show where irrigation coverage is lacking, which helps one to be pro-active in efficient watering. Areas where coverage is poor or impossible can help determine where waterwise landscaping might be more appropriate.

Not comfortable performing a water audit? Local municipalities may offer water use assessments, as well as Resource Central’s “Slow the Flow” paid irrigation audits which includes a full report on what changes to make.

Photo: National Turfgrass Evaluation Program


Audits should not stop at irrigation systems. How about a turfgrass audit? How old is the lawn and what are the water, mowing, and fertilization requirements? How much foot traffic does it get? Is the lawn being mowed at the proper height? The National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) is a non-profit whose purpose is to evaluate turfgrass on a variety of factors. With this testing, more drought-tolerant, disease-resistant, higher-quality turf varieties are becoming available each year.

Some homeowners decide to completely convert existing high-water turf to a low-water turf option, but the cost-benefit analysis should be considered. A low-cost alternative is to overseed with a newer and more drought tolerant variety of the same species that currently exists. 


Continue the audit and investigate the difficult-to-water areas, slopes, corners, awkward angles, and hell strips in the landscape. These are perfect areas for xeriscape or native plants that require both less maintenance and water.

It is a common sight in neighborhoods to see all the turfgrass removed and replaced with xeriscape and native plants with an organic mulch cover, while others decide to forgo anything living and replace it with (gasp!) rock.

Photo: CSU Dr. Tony Koski, turf presentation

Before doing either of these, consider three things:

1.  The existing trees. Before converting turfgrass with low water plants or rock only, take a long and thoughtful look at the landscape. Identify existing trees and shrubs that will remain and make certain that the same level of irrigation will be supplied after conversion. Trees rely on the water used for lawns, and if this irrigation is reduced or removed, they will greatly suffer and eventually die.

2.  A heat island effect. Before tearing out all the landscaping and laying rock, consider that trees, lawn, and vegetation lessen the severity of high temperatures. Rock will absorb and re-emit heat, making the areas around a rock landscape even hotter. Findings show urban areas without vegetation can experience mid-afternoon temperatures that are 15°F to 20°F warmer than the surrounding, more vegetated areas.ii

3. The benefits of plants. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, reduce surface runoff, capture pollutants and support insects and animals.

While the word “audit” may invoke feelings of fear and horror, landscape audits are valuable in helping to use our most precious resource wisely.


ii › heatislands

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