[Ed. note: This article is part of our weekly series of church activities, called Cultivating Community, published on Thursdays.]
When we think of ways to save water, our minds usually jump to what we know we should be doing indoors: turning off water when we’re not using it, fixing leaky faucets, running dishwashers and washing machines only when they’re full, etc. Saving water inside our churches is a topic we explored last week. But there are even more opportunities to steward our water and to save and wisely use what falls from the sky outside the church’s doors.
Why save water outside? you may ask. Doesn’t it all run back to lakes and rivers and seas and start its cycle all over again? Actually, only a third of the precipitation that falls over land runs off into large bodies of surface water, much of it—after it has flowed over our parking lots and through our drainage ditches—carrying unhealthy amounts of sediment and toxic chemicals with it. The rest of the water is evaporated from the ground, taken up by plants, or soaked into the water table. Using too much water—either from bodies of surface water or from groundwater—can deprive plants, animals, and people from this precious resource.
The following are five things your church can do to play a redemptive role in the water cycle, nurturing God’s creation by saving and wisely using the water it requires:
Barrel the rain
Immediately save tens of gallons of rainwater by adding a rain barrel to your church’s property. The rain you collect can be
used for watering small areas of your church’s landscaping or can be directed, via an irrigation system, to water larger areas instead of a hose or sprinkler. For how to install a rain barrel at your church, and to make the installation celebratory for your entire church family, visit our guide to installing a rain barrel.
If it leaks, fix it
You’ve already tightened every faucet inside your church building. Now it’s time to check outside faucets, sprinklers, and hoses for leaks, holes, or loose connections. Keeping hoses away from areas where they can be trampled by feet or run over by cars is important to preserving them from holes or slits that will leak water. Storing them properly indoors during cold winter weather, and turning off water to outside faucets at those same times, will also protect against future damage.
When and how your church waters its turf and landscaping plays a big role in how much water it can save.
- Check the root zone of landscaped plants before watering. If the first two inches of soil you can feel are still moist, there is no need to water.
- In hot weather, water lawns and gardens early in the morning or evening so that the incidence of evaporation is less and the plants retain more water.
- Locate sprinklers so that water isn’t wasted by falling on sidewalks or parking lots.
- Water small patches of landscaping or even turf by hand (with a watering can or hose carrying water from your rain barrel!) and larger areas with sprinklers.
- Surround plantings with plenty of organic mulch to increase landscaped areas’ ability to soak up and use water.
- If your church uses an automated watering system, be sure your facilities manager has the ability to turn it off if it malfunctions or if a heavy rain does the watering for it.
- Irrigate gardens and landscaping with a drip irrigation system so that no water is wasted.
- Consider replacing turf areas with native landscaping (see the following suggestion for more information).
Landscaping with plants that are native to your church’s geographic region is not only beneficial to the local ecosystem (encouraging the flourishing of local animals and other plant species), but it also reduces the amount of extra watering your church needs to do. The ornamental plants included in decorative landscaping can take a lot more extra water than do plants that are naturally adapted to the rain patterns of a particular locale. But when plants that have developed along with the natural conditions (rainfall patters, soil composition, native pollinators) are integrated into landscaping, the time, effort, and cost your church will put into maintaining its landscaping will drop. Find out if your church is ready for a native plant garden, and explore the Native Plant Database and PlantNative to find out what beautiful plant species are waiting to get (back) into your churchyard.
Our suggestions thus far are for activities most churches can afford and agree upon to save water. The following suggestions will require greater consensus among your congregation and a larger financial investment. However, implementing them will also yield larger utilities savings for your church and a greater benefit to creation.
- Gray water – If local codes allow for it, consider watering landscaped areas with gray water, which is water that has been reclaimed from dishwashing, laundry, or bathing uses inside the building.
- Bioswales – Using bioswales in your church’s parking area can reduce the amount of automobile-related pollutants that get carried into the local watershed as water runoff from parking lot asphalt. Bioswales are concave planted medians between parking areas. The plants they contain help filter contaminants out of the water that flows through their roots and reduce the risk of flooding and damage to your parking lot.
- Permeable pavers – The next time your church parking lot requires re-paving, consider using permeable pavers, instead. These paving bricks, which come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles, filter precipitation down through them and to soak into the ground beneath them instead of running off into local surface water bodies.
Related Posts at Flourish
Water Conservation at Church: Saving Water Indoors
ENERGY STAR Congregations Guide