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Outdoor Water Conservation

green grass with dew

Why water conservation is important

  • Water is a finite resource, even though about 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. Less than 1 percent is available for human use.
  • On average, a residential home in Columbia uses 3,740 gallons a month of water.
  • Toilets account for approximately 25 percent of indoor water use.
  • Energy efficient water use has also spiked since 1999. This is because of energy efficient appliances (like toilets, washer and dryers, dishwashers, and shower heads.)
water sprinkler

Outside water usage for an average consumer in the City of Columbia is around 30 percent of total water usage. Columbia Water & Light wants to make sure that you know the proper ways to water your landscape to help you save money and conserve water.

Whether you are watering your garden or laying new grass, it is important to think about how to use water efficiently. Here are some tips for helping you get the most out of your water and landscape.

Outside water tips

Up to 60 percent of all water use in the summer is outdoors on landscaping. However, one of the most common problems with landscaping is over-watering! By using the water conservation techniques outlined on this page, you might be surprised by a better looking yard and lower water bills. You will also be helping the community by ensuring the availability of water during peak pumping periods. Most importantly, you are saving water for future generations.

  • Watering thoroughly, but infrequently, develops a deep-root system so plants can use moisture and nutrients deep in the ground.
  • Water according to moisture in the soil, not a fixed schedule.
  • Lawns are dry when footprints remain in the grass long after being made.
  • Lawns need only one inch of water per week, including rainfall. Shrubs, trees and other perennials generally will need even less because of their deeper root structures. Water approximately three times a week for 20 minutes.
  • Use a tuna can or a rain gauge to accurately measure the amount of water your irrigation system delivers.
  • Set a timer as a reminder to turn off the sprinkler.
  • Water in the early morning before 8 a.m., avoiding windy conditions.
    Consider rain barrels to capture water from a roof and hold it for later use. This reuse of rainwater can be used for watering gardens or indoor plants. Collecting roof runoff in rain barrels also reduces the amount of water that flows from your property into stormwater sewers. Using rain barrels is a great way to protect the environment. It provides free water for use in your landscape and it helps extend the useful life of existing infrastructure.
  • Don’t irrigate the pavement. Choose and adjust sprinklers to fit the lawn area
  • Mulch to retain moisture and prevent water-robbing weeds.
  • Mow grass to a height of 2 1/2″ with a sharp blade.
  • Never use a hose to rinse off pavement. Sweep leaves and grass clippings.
  • Protect your water supply. Make sure irrigation systems have backflow preventers.
  • Try xeriscaping. Xeriscaping is a type of landscaping that uses drought-tolerant plants to reduce how much water your landscaping needs. Read below to learn more about xeriscaping.

Water-efficient landscaping

flowers as a demonstration of xeriscaping techniques

Columbia’s most important reason for water-efficient landscaping is to preserve and extend the useful life of our present water supply. A considerable amount of water can be saved through well-planned and well-managed landscapes. So, try xeriscaping and spend less time watering, and more time enjoying your beautiful landscape! 

    • Divide the landscape into three water use zones: low, moderate and high. Place plants with high-water requirements in areas that receive the most water, like drainage ways, depressions or bottom of hills.
    • Shade provided by plants or structures helps cool the landscape and reduces water loss. A shaded landscape can be as much as 20 percent cooler than full-sun areas.
    • Make sure you select plants according to the site conditions and environmental stresses. Native Missouri plants are good choices since they tolerate wet spring soils and late summer drought. For more information on native plants, check out  opens in a new windowMissouri Botanical Gardens Plant Finder or  opens in a new windowGrow Native, and look at the list below in “Native Plants to Try in Your Yard.” Remember, the soil in Missouri is dry!
    • Pay close attention to moisture in the soil to determine when to water. It also pays to do your homework on the water needs of the plants that you have selected for your yard.
    • Avoid watering in the middle of the day when the hot sun will evaporate much of the water before it can get to thirsty plants.
    • Clay soil types commonly found in Columbia don’t absorb water well. Deeply cultivated, amended soil will improve drainage, save water and keep your plants healthy.
    • Mulch to retain moisture in the soil and prevent water-robbing weeds. Avoid using rocks around your plants since the heat they radiate will increase evaporation.


American Filbert- Hazelnut

Golden Currant

Gray Dogwood

Missouri Gooseberry


Ornamental Grasses:

Big Bluestem

Indian Grass

Prairie Dropseed

Sideoats Grama


Perennial Flowers:

American Basket Flower

Bee Balm

Black-eyed Susan

Cup Plant


For more information on native plants, check out  opens in a new windowMissouri Botanical Gardens Plant Finder or  opens in a new windowGrow Native

Irrigation systems

Irrigation systems are one way to help you keep your landscape looking pristine while helping you conserve water. With an irrigation system you can provide balance and consistency to watering your lawn. You will be able to put water where you need it most to get the best out of your landscape.

water irrigation system
  • Set your irrigation system correctly to avoid wasting water. Water is wasted by poorly designed and neglected sprinkler systems that spray sidewalks, driveways, and the street.
  • Schedule each individual zone in your irrigation system to account for the type of sprinkler, sun or shade exposure, and type of plants and soil in the specific area.The same watering schedule rarely applies to all zones in the system.
  • Install a micro-irrigation system for gardens, trees, and shrubs. Micro-irrigation applies water slowly and directly to the plants’ roots to minimize evaporation, runoff, and loss due to wind.

A sprinkler system distributes water through a system of pipes usually by pumping. At this time, spray heads will spray water into the air to irrigate entire soil surfaces. This causes the water to breakup into small water drops that fall to the ground. Sprinkler systems are reliable for many types of yards and properties, from large to small. They are also adaptable to almost all irrigable soils since the spouts are adjustable for water distribution.


Water is pumped or brought to the fields and is allowed to flow along the ground among the crops.

Drip irrigation

Drip Irrigation sends water through plastic pipes with holes in them. They are placed among crops or buried under the surface to distribute water.

Spray irrigation

Spray Irrigation systems have a long tube fixed at one end to the water source, such as a well. Next, water flows through the tube and is shot out by a system of spray-guns onto your landscape or vegetation.

Better spray irrigation

Better spray irrigation shoots water through the air onto fields. Likewise, another spray method is a gentle spray, where water is gently sprayed from a hanging pipe.

Weather-based controllers

Weather-based controllers, also referred to as evapotranspiration controllers, use local weather data to adjust irrigation schedules. Evapotranspiration is the combination of evaporation from the soil surface and transpiration by plant materials.

The best evapotranspiration weather data uses four weather parameters: temperature, wind, solar radiation and humidity. It’s the most accurate way to calculate landscaping water needs.

Soil moisture sensor-based controllers

When buried in the root zone, the sensors accurately determine the moisture level in the soil, which is a direct result of evapotranspiration, and transmit this reading to the controller.

At a minimum, you should check your irrigation system’s performance twice a season: once at the beginning of the season when the system is first turned on, and again halfway through the season.

The basics of irrigation maintenance are:

  • Inspect the controller and make sure it’s plugged in and functioning.
  • Update the time and date.
  • Check the connection on all the wires. Make sure that rain, wind, or soil moisture sensors are connected.
  • Replace the back-up battery.
  • Change the schedule to reflect the current season and irrigation needs of the landscape.
  • Turn on each zone and look for system damage.

By definition, a backflow preventer is a device that allows water to go through it in one direction, but prevents it from going backwards in the opposite direction. Backflow preventers keep unsafe water from reversing flow and entering the clean water supply. As a result, the preventers are required by law.  opens in a new windowMissouri DNR maintains a  list of certified testers for your backflow prevention devices.  Make sure to select “Boone” as your county to view contractors in your area.

Backflow prevention devices are required by a  opens in a new windowCity of Columbia ordinance (Chapter 27, section 57) to protect the health of water customers with irrigation systems. Problems can arise with any mechanical device from wear and tear, so annual testing helps keep people safe. Accordingly, certified testers will annually test the device, because properly calibrated gauge equipment is the only way of making sure there is no contamination. However, you should also check the system throughout the year to make sure no visible problems arise.

Send your certified backflow preventer device testing results to:  opens in a new windowbackflowtestreports@como.govcreate new email or mail to:

Columbia Water & Light Water

Services Superintendent

P.O. Box 6015

Columbia, MO 65205

The US EPA’s WaterSense provides a search engine for you to find the best irrigation contractors in your area.


opens in a new windowWaterSense is a voluntary partnership program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It is both a label for water-efficient products and a resource for helping you save water. WaterSense-labeled products and services are certified to use at least 20 percent less water, save energy and perform as well as or better than regular models.

Go to WaterSense to read more tips on how to conserve water.

WaterSense labeled products meet EPA’s specifications for water efficiency and performance, and are backed by independent, third-party certification. 

The WaterSense label means a product is certified to do the following things:

  • Perform as well or better than their less efficient counterparts.
  • Are 20 percent more water efficient than average products in that category.
  • Realize water savings on a national level.
  • Provide measurable water savings results.
  • Achieve water efficiency through several technology options.

opens in a new windowWaterSense helps the City of Columbia and its residents conserve water easily and effectively. WaterSense makes it easy to tell what products are energy-efficient for your home or business by providing the WaterSense label on every product that meets its standards. WaterSense provides many tips and information to make sure that you are getting the best from your appliances.

Interested in other water conservation tips? Check out our water conservation tips for indoors.

Contact Utility Services


701 E Broadway, Columbia, MO 65205




efficiency@como.govcreate new email

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