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45- The holy grail of water conservation, with turfgrass specialist Dr. Kelly Kopp

February 15, 2021 Utah State University Office of Research Episode 45
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45- The holy grail of water conservation, with turfgrass specialist Dr. Kelly Kopp
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45- The holy grail of water conservation, with turfgrass specialist Dr. Kelly Kopp
Feb 15, 2021 Episode 45
Utah State University Office of Research

Professor Kelly Kopp’s research efforts are focused on landscape water conservation and sustainable turfgrass management. In this episode, Kelly takes us into the world of resource positive landscaping , a style of landscapes that gives more than it takes. Wyatt asks if decades-old patches of grass need to be upgraded, Kelly explains misconceptions about Xeriscaping, and we discuss what people care most about in their outdoor spaces.

Dr. Kelly Kopp will be presenting her water-related research at Research Landscapes on March 2nd.  https://research.usu.edu/landscapes/

The Center for Water Efficient Landscaping is a research and outreach center designed to improve the efficient use of water for landscape irrigation. https://cwel.usu.edu

Show Notes Transcript

Professor Kelly Kopp’s research efforts are focused on landscape water conservation and sustainable turfgrass management. In this episode, Kelly takes us into the world of resource positive landscaping , a style of landscapes that gives more than it takes. Wyatt asks if decades-old patches of grass need to be upgraded, Kelly explains misconceptions about Xeriscaping, and we discuss what people care most about in their outdoor spaces.

Dr. Kelly Kopp will be presenting her water-related research at Research Landscapes on March 2nd.  https://research.usu.edu/landscapes/

The Center for Water Efficient Landscaping is a research and outreach center designed to improve the efficient use of water for landscape irrigation. https://cwel.usu.edu

Kelly Kopp: [00:00:02] Think about the amount of area that's covered with grass, with lawn type grass, and if you actually start adding it up, it's the largest irrigated crop in the country. 

 

Wyatt: [00:00:14] By square footage or by water usage?

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:00:17] By square footage. And that has huge implications for water usage. If you're somebody that's trying to make an impact, you know, the more ground making air quotes here, the more ground you cover, the better.

 

Wyatt: [00:00:31] This episode is about grass, the kind of grass that makes up your yard in dry states like Utah. It's easy to see green lawns as just a waste of water, but thinking like that is a mistake. And to tell you why, I'm talking to Kelly.

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:00:47] Hi, I'm Kelly. Hope I'm a professor in the Plant Soils and Climate Department at USU. I'm also the extension water conservation and Turf Grass Specialist at USU.

 

Wyatt: [00:00:58] I'm Wyatt Traughber and you might be feeling guilty for using water on your lawn, but you are listening to this instead.A podcast from Utah State University's Office of Research.You might remember how a few years ago lawns across California went brown to cope with extreme drought. Kelly talks about that situation and the drawbacks of not having that green space. In this episode, you'll learn how turf grass can be an important part of a resource positive landscape. Also, learn what resource positive landscaping is. A lot of telescopes work has to do with varieties and species of turf grass. And by the end of this episode, you might be itching for an upgrade. So make sure to contact USU Extension to figure out what variety will work best in your neck of the woods or sagebrush. We're going to get started with Kelly taking us into her research where she builds patches of test landscaping so she can figure out what works best under what conditions and what changes people are willing to make.

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:02:08] But I essentially built landscapes like I'm describing on a very large scale, and I can change them. So it's almost like I built them in swimming pools and there's a little bit of drainage that results at certain times of the year. And I'm able to collect that and look at nutrient leaching. We're monitoring soil moisture at different depths, under different plant materials, lots of data loggers and instrumentation there as well. So I know exactly how much water is going on because I measure that and I know exactly how much water is coming out because I measured that. And so that lets us develop a whole balance of water. What's going in, what's coming out, what's being stored in the soil?

 

Wyatt: [00:02:52] What do you learn from that? Like how how does that change the advice we give to homeowners in Utah?

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:02:58] No, it's excellent question. OK, so that's the set up of those plots. But what we're really looking at and comparing there are different kinds of plant materials. So there are nine different plots and there are three different landscape types installed on those nine plots. But the question is, you know, can you have landscapes that are similar in design but just change the plant materials and save water?So that's one of the questions that we've been answering with that. We've also used those same plots to do public preference survey work. So, for example, years ago, I'll just use the grass because that's easier. But years ago, those plots had Kentucky blue grass, tall fescue and buffalo grass growing on them. And we had people come out and evaluate those plots, sort of give us their sense of their quality.

 

Wyatt: [00:03:50] Did you let them, like, take off their shoes and, like, kind of roll around on a little bit like they wanted for my lawn, like something a little softer?

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:03:58] Yeah, they could if they wanted for sure. But we had them look at those landscapes when they were really healthy, as healthy as possible, no water limitations. And then we turned off the irrigation for six weeks. So zero irrigation for six weeks in the middle of summer and then had them come back and tell us what they thought. So I'll tell you, it's a little bit of a spoiler and getting here. But basically, after six weeks, the bluegrass had gone dormant. They didn't like that.

 

Wyatt: [00:04:26] Does dorman mean like, Brown and Ugly, is that your code for that is going to be friendly like.

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:04:30] Yes, brown and ugly. So the blue grass was brown and ugly. The the buffalo grass. It looked really good for buffalo grass, but it's just a little bit different color than people are used to. So they didn't really like that so much. But the tall fescue looked just the same as it had before we turned off the irrigation. And so, you know, these landscapes had more things than turf. They had trees and shrubs, et cetera. But all people cared about was how green is this grass? So then, you know, I had light bulbs going off like, OK, you know, as long as the grass is green, people are going to love what is around it. So, you know, this is years ago, but I kind of set my research up in a different direction, too. It's like, all right, there are species and varieties of grass out there that are just naturally more green. They're they're just genetically more green. And in the case of tall fescue, the one that performs so well, it's very deeply rooted.So even when things are really dry, it's pulling water from way, way, way down deep in the soil and so it can maintain color. So, you know, I kind of shifted my thinking there. It's like, well, maybe we don't have to get people to make extreme changes to their landscapes. If we can focus on those things that are most important to them, which seem to be how green is the grass? So I can promote grasses that are really green but don't require much water. That's like that's it. That's the Holy Grail.

 

Wyatt: [00:06:00] Well, and that's like. I mean, it's one of those things that seems so obvious, like once like you learn it, you know, like I'm willing to change, but also if that change isn't visible even better, you know, like.

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:06:16] And the thing is, too, that was so interesting about that. So I mentioned the buffalo grass was a little bit different color, but I thought after six weeks of no irrigation, people were going to love that landscape because while the grass color was a little different, everything was blooming. All of those lower water use plant materials looked absolutely stunning. But this is what was so surprising to me. People didn't care. They didn't care about those gorgeous shrubs and flowers. They just cared about how green the grass was. Mm hmm. So, yeah.

 

Wyatt: [00:06:49] Yeah. So if you. Can you explain what resource positive landscaping like means to you?

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:06:59] Mm hmm. So to me, resource positive landscaping is they are landscapes that give more than they take, essentially.

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:07:10] So we've talked a lot about different things like carbon. We've talked about water, we've talked about nutrients. And so perhaps you spend time. Money on fertilizers, water to maintain them. But what you get is cooling, sequestering or carbon sequestering and nutrients on site retention of storm water, all of those kinds of things that hopefully outweigh what you're putting in. That's the goal of this research. This research that I'm undertaking now is one of those landscape. What what do those landscapes look like in Utah? What kind of grass do they have? Do they have grass? Do they have what kind of trees? What do they have?

 

Wyatt: [00:07:59] This makes me think of back in high school, we did a project where we eat kind of we all just kind of designed like a xeriscape yard or something. And that was kind of like the thought back then. And then when the massive drought happened in California in like 2015, all of the lawns in L.A. and around California were brown because people weren't allowed to water anymore. It got me thinking that, like, you know, if everybody had already ripped out their lawns and not been watering like that, water would have been used somewhere else, you know? And so it seemed like lawns are such a it's something you can let die for a couple of years, you know, if you have to.

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:08:35] Yes, I know exactly what you're saying. And you're describing a concept that I think of as for me, a lawn or not just the lawn, but these entire landscapes, they I consider them as is almost a virtual reservoir. So you're describing a situation in California where things got really desperate and they just had to stop outdoor irrigation and that can be OK for a lot of plant materials. And so then that water can be used for other purposes. And then when things are a little bit easier and water is a bit more available, yes, you can go back to having those landscapes. But the other thing to consider is, yes, those those lawns died and they were brown and it probably wasn't very attractive, but there's a negative consequence to that. And that is that without that green plant material around structures, there's a whole lot of heat increase.And so what that means in a climate, especially like a lot of California, that means you're going to be spending more energy cooling those structures. The energy costs increase. And actually a lot of energy production is involves hydroelectric power, for example. And so there's actually water embedded even in that energy production. So as you start digging into it, it becomes more and more complex. And that's where I'm trying to figure out, OK, what are the tradeoffs if we do let these landscapes go because we're in a water crisis, that may be OK, but is it really a benefit? Is there a net water savings to that action?

 

Wyatt: [00:10:11] What are some of the things that are different between our situation and the water stuff that's happening in California?

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:10:17] Well, you know, we do have we are not California, obviously. And I it's interesting to me, Utahans really like to emphasize that I found that when I first moved here. You know, there are some similarities we rely on. For example, we rely on snowpack quite a bit for our water supply, as do many areas of California. So there is that similarity. There are some climate similarities, but there are some differences as well. We are much drier. We have less precipitation for the most part, not everywhere, but in a lot of places as compared to places in California. So that's a difference. And the other thing is population. We while we are growing and I think we're all pretty well aware that in Utah we're not growing, nor do we have the same level of population as California does. So that's a difference. And here's another difference where we are both states are part of the Colorado River basin and we use water in that basin according to agreements that were put in place decades ago, decades and decades ago. And according to those agreements, at least as of today, Utah still has rights to some Colorado River water that we are not yet using. California, on the other hand, does not have that they are using everything and more than they are technically allowed to do. So that's a big difference. They just got more of that. They've got more land, more people, more landscapes, more.

 

Wyatt: [00:11:50] Yeah, yeah. How did you wind up in this field? Like what got you interested in studying this kind of science and then what brought you to Utah State. So yeah. Health story.

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:12:04] Well I'll start at the beginning. Beginning I can remember as a kid playing, we I grew up in very, very deep south Texas and my family had sort of a hobby orchard, I guess I would call it. We weren't farmers, per say, but I used to spend a lot of time.In this orchard, I used to love to play with the soil and just make little buildings and cities and structures, I take all my Fisher-Price toys out there and have neighborhoods and all kinds of things. And anyway, it's funny, I got to college and I struggled for a couple of years, like I did not know what I wanted to do, but I thought I was interested in the environment. So I did a degree in natural resource conservation and through that degree I ended up taking soil science class. And when I I think I've heard this from a lot of people, there's some class. You sit in there and all of the sudden all the lights turn on and all your interests are piqued. And it's like, oh, I found it. I found the thing. And that's how that class was for me. I mean, and I tie it back to my my youth playing with soil, I it was my favorite thing. While soils are fabulous, the thing that moves pollutants and things through the environment is water. And so I decided to study hydrology as a master's student and that degree had me working in in production agriculture systems. So I wasn't looking at yards and lawns and things like that. At that point. I was looking at corn production and how pesticides moved through corn fields. And so I did that for a while and I enjoyed that work. It was interesting. I had no intention of going on for more schooling beyond that. But one of my committee members at the time said, hey, I have an opening for a PhD student and would you be interested in working on turf. And so turf just for your listeners, When I say turf or turf grass, I'm talking about lawn grass, the grass that grows around our our campuses and our homes.

 

Wyatt: [00:14:22] So not artificial, not our turf like football turf.

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:14:25] Right. This is the actual living plant material. And I looked at him like he was out of his mind because I thought, who cares? I just thought it was the silliest idea ever. But he really obviously he really changed my thinking about it because he said, you know, of course, this work that you're doing with with production, agriculture and pesticides is interesting.But think about the amount of area, especially in the US. Think about the amount of area that's covered with grass, with lawn type grass. And if you actually start adding it up, it's the largest irrigated crop in the country, then I thought, oh, OK, if you if if you're somebody that's trying to make an impact, the more ground I'm making air quotes here, the more ground you cover, the better. And so I started that work. I worked there on that project for about four years. But I was really focused on water quality because this is in Connecticut, mind you, so. Water is an issue there, but not from a scarcity scarcity perspective, it's an issue from a quality perspective, and there are issues with eutrophication of water bodies like Long Island Sound, for example. So the water body in between New York and Connecticut often gets really polluted because there's a lot of nutrient loading to that water. So that's what I was working on, like how do we manage lawn systems so that they are retaining nutrients on site so that we're doing things in a way that that those nutrients don't move beyond the root zone and get into water bodies like rivers, Long Island Sound, etc.. So I spent several years working on that. And then as I was finishing up, I had a colleague who I'd done my master's degree with.At the same time, she had already moved to Utah at that point and she was working in the department I'm working in now.And she contacted me and said, hey, there's this job opening up here and I think you'd be perfect for it and you should apply. And I at that point, I'd been to Utah once in my life before that, and I fell in love with this state because I am really into outdoor recreation. I like to camp and backpack and hike and do all those things. And I thought, if I can ever get a job in Utah, I definitely want to do that. And, you know, it was just sort of one thing led to another and a classic case of someone in your network helping you out.And so even before I finished my PhD, I'd come out to Utah, I'd had the interview, I had the job offer. And I can tell you going into your PhD defense with a job offer in hand is a pretty nice position to be. So that was that was 20 plus years ago.And it's been fantastic. It's been a wonderful career here at USU.

 

Wyatt: [00:17:29] Yeah. Yeah. I want to ask, are there different ways of thinking about water that me or other people like might not be familiar with?

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:17:37] Yeah, yeah. I can talk that through. We think about water, especially in the West, is something that's precious, which of course it is. But what the way that I'm thinking of water in the context of the work I'm doing is it's one piece of the ornamental landscape or the managed landscape.So for me, I'm conceiving of it more as a tool, something that can optimize the outputs or resources we get from landscapes, not something that we have to hoard it like the troll under the bridge with the gold or something. I'm you know, I'm trying to think of it more as a tool that while we may spend as a resource, can help us to get more in the end. So I think that's a little bit different than we tend to think about water in the West. You know, it's always like, oh, we had to save it. Oh, it's so limited. And yes, that is very, very true. But there's so many nuances to how we use it and there's so many consequences. You know, I mentioned the cooling around structures that we get from landscapes and how we might spend water to keep those landscapes green. But it's worthwhile because in the end, we save water that might be used for energy production, for cooling. So does that answer your question a little bit?

 

Wyatt: [00:18:59] Yeah. Yeah. So it's kind of more of a making an analogy to money like might sounds wrong, but also like if you just have money in a bank account and inflation is happening, you're not leveraging that money. Yes. In the right way. That's a mistake. You know, I like just putting in a reservoir and saving it. It's like, well, how much of that is just evaporating there instead of.

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:19:23] Yes, exactly. Exactly. And we have to think about all of those things, because if we don't think about all of those things, you know, in the end, our ultimate goal of having enough what we won't be able to meet our ultimate goal of having enough water. We have to think about every single way in which it is gained and lost and utilized.

 

Wyatt: [00:19:44] If somebody kind of just offhandedly hears that you do water conservation and that's all they know about you, and then they start talking about their xeriscape yard that they just put in, what are the thoughts that you are holding back? We're not holding back.

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:20:00] Well, I unfortunately, I've seen some pretty rough examples of that in the state, the group I'm involved with, the Center for Water Efficient Landscaping. That's why we don't call it xeriscaping, because I'm sure you've heard people say zero scaping. Right. It's a bit of a pet peeve for me. It's X, E, R and, you know, unfortunately, it has some really negative connotations, like you're going to have the classic thing people say is, oh, you're going to have a cow skull in a wagon wheel and a big rock and maybe a rusty old tractor, something over there.

 

Wyatt: [00:20:36] And we had all of those growing up in the parts of our property. But like, we just didn't want to water. That's fine.

 

[00:20:43] You can do that. But I guess it can be it can be so much more.It can be, you know, lush and colorful and dense. And those are terms people don't think about a lot with xeriscaping or water wise landscaping. There's this this idea that it has to be sparer and spiny and it just doesn't have to be that.And people aren't as inclined to say water if it doesn't look good.

 

Wyatt: [00:21:11] If somebody calls on the phone and said, hey, I live in Utah, I'm putting in new grass, what kind should I use? And that's all the information you had. What would your suggestion be?

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:21:21] So I'll start with the following information. I mean, probably the most important thing is where are they in Utah? You know, we're not a huge, huge state, but we've got some different climates for sure. So mainly that means are you in northern Utah or southwestern Utah? So that would be sort of supplemental information that would absolutely be needed, something that I don't suppose to too many people are aware of. But at our research farms here in Utah, we do variety and species trialling and testing with multiple, multiple national programs. And so we've been doing that for a lot of years. We actually know what species and varieties work best here. More recently, we've been collaborating with a group called the Turf Grass Water Conservation Alliance. And this is actually it's a private industry group, non-profit, but they collaborate with universities to conduct research on what they find are their most promising varieties in terms of water conservation. So we've been participating with them for a number of years and they actually provide those seeds as well as sort in some some cases that information is on their website.They're available in the the big box stores of the world. I don't want to. Yeah, sure. I can say exactly which ones, but we have that information. I can definitely say, all right, you're in northern Utah.You probably want to mix these different varieties of bluegrass and you're going to have water savings in there. Terrific looking on.

 

Wyatt: [00:22:59] Mm hmm. Yeah. That's so worth of bluegrass or tall fescue. Like what? What would I like? What I guess a better question is, what would you want in your yard?

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:23:10] Ok, well, this is so funny because I'm an extension. I work a lot with the public and I think of myself as a detective in a lot of ways because I have to ask a lot of questions. And so if I were answering this question for someone else, I'd say, all right, do you have children? Do you have pets? Do you play croquet? Do you what do you do on your lawn? Because for me, I have children and I have pets, so I need some kind of grass. It's going to be able to withstand traffic from both children and pets and adults. And so, yes, I would recommend for myself bluegrass and I would recommend some of the fantastic low water use bluegrass varieties that are available out there. And I say bluegrass because it's really able to withstand traffic. That's why it's used so much. It recovers really, really well from a lot of traffic. And so for me, I'd start there and then I'd be like, OK, this is the species I want. What are the varieties that are going to be lowest water use and really functional for me?

 

Wyatt: [00:24:16] And then is there ever a case in which you like there's like mixed seeds of just like, oh, this is like half bluegrass, half fescue and then quarter of buffalo grass.That's more than one hundred percent, but well, mixing species like that.

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:24:31] So you mentioned bluegrass and tall fescue.

 

Wyatt: [00:24:33] Those are the ones you told me I don't like. I'm not like I know,

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:24:38] But those actually are a great combination. They really are. I often will recommend those and mixing those. And one of the reasons that mixing them is often a good idea is that you've got genetic diversity. So let's just say, for example, some you know, it's interesting. Every once in a while in Utah, we get this big. Are sort of infestation of army worms and army worms can literally come through a landscape and eat everything down to the ground. That's just the example of a pest that can come through. But if you've got a mixture of species or a blend of varieties, they're better able to withstand that. Some might be less susceptible to that sort of thing. So diversity, as in most situations, is good in grasses. So it's definitely a good approach.

 

Wyatt: [00:25:32] What happens when a lawn is really old? It hasn't reseeded or resod in decades.

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:25:39] There was a time I lived at a home in Smithfield, actually, that the house was well over one hundred years old and the lawn was well over 50 years old. And it was it was actually still hanging in there.But the thing I think people don't realize is, is the amount of research and science that has gone into improving grasses over time. So those if you're talking about a lawn that's been there forever, that's OK. I mean, there's nothing wrong with that per say, but there's just been so many developments there. It's like advances in any technology really that's happened with grasses. And so improvements can be made. So grasses, for example, that will use less water, that will be more dense, that will have a better color, that will have a nicer texture. Those things have all improved over time. So, you know, I would never tell anyone they needed to rip out something they have if it's working for them, they might be able to be a little more efficient in terms of water use. But, you know, some of the older varieties can be OK.

 

Wyatt: [00:26:45] Yeah. So, like, would you have to completely rip it out to, like, start introducing new varieties?

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:26:50] You know, if you wanted to change species entirely, you would probably be better off by. Killing or at least damaging, what is there so that you give new sides a chance to get going, because even if it's a very old long grass can be pretty competitive. And so unless you give your new seed a fighting chance, then it tends to not be able to take over an existing, very well established one. But there are fairly simple ways to do that. And actually considering doing that here at my home this coming spring, I've got a pretty small lawn area in the front. It's got blue grass in it, but they didn't prepare the soil very well. It's really, really shallow. And I'm thinking I'd like to try a mixture of different tall fuscus. So I think what I'm going to end up doing is I'll use an herbicide to maybe knock back the existing grass and then I can see it right over the top of that. And that will allow the new stuff to get established. And this is a process we go through quite often at our research farm because we're constantly changing the the stuff in our plots. And, you know, that's one way to do it.

 

Wyatt: [00:28:03] I want to turn to carbon sequestration. When I think of that, I think of the Amazon rain forest and I also think of marsh bogs in Scotland or something like that. Yeah, I can imagine that lawn clippings are also sequestered carbon, but if that goes into the dump or if that gets burned or whatever people are doing with their lawn clippings of that carbon and actually getting sequestered. So I guess just just explain what carbon sequestration is and how lawns can contribute to that.

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:28:30] Sure, sure. So carbon, obviously, it's one of the biggest concerns we have in terms of climate change and what is happening with our atmosphere and trying to sequester or remove certain components of that so that they aren't creating issues in terms of climate change or warming or cooling, whatever the case may be. And so carbon and how it moves through the soil plant's atmosphere system becomes really important, because if we can sequester some of that carbon or remove it from our atmosphere and hold it or sequester it in some kind of material, then that can benefit us. You mentioned the Amazon rain forest. That is a perfect probably the most well-known example, right? We want that carbon that exists in those trees to stay there instead of being cut, burned and released into the atmosphere and are managed to. Ornamental landscapes are not dissimilar from that. They've got plant material. They've got soil, all of which can sequester some carbon from the atmosphere in the way that works is that plants use carbon as part of their energy processes. And so they take that carbon in. They use it for certain processes to create energy and then they can keep it as part of their plant components so trees can secure it.They can take up carbon and sequester some of that. Some of that's going to be in their leaves.You know, if you're talking about deciduous trees, things like, I don't know, maples or oaks, things like that that lose their leaves in the fall, you know, those leaves actually contain quite a bit of carbon. And as they decompose, that can be released. But it can also then land on the soil and be sequestered in the soil depending on what's going on and how it's sitting and all of that. And turf grasses are the same way. Shrubs are the same way. Flowers, all of these plants, they can take up carbon and they can keep it there. Now, you mentioned grass clippings. I really want to talk about that because grass clippings like tree leaves, they contain a fair bit of carbon. One of the best practices that I talk about a lot is keeping those clippings on site. So maybe you mow your grass, but you don't bag the clippings. You just let them fall where they lie and decompose. And then they become part of the soil system and they release nutrients. And it's like this cycle that keeps going and going and going. So, yes, you would not want to remove those and take them to a dump where they're going to produce methane decompose and cause all kinds of other problems. To me, they're a resource. They're a resource that you can keep on site. They actually provide nutrients over time. It's just a way to support that process, that sequestration and nutrient cycling process. But when people bag them and then they end up in the dump or, you know, that's not as good, that is that's just not the best use of that resource. It's like you're maybe you're spending time fertilizing and doing all of this stuff to keep it looking good. But if you're then constantly removing those clippings, you know, it's like, why did you bother? You've just removed everything you put down. So my my best practice that I would recommend is keeping them on site, letting them decompose, provide nutrients to the system and just keep that cycle going.

 

Wyatt: [00:32:07] Is that just because people don't like the way it looks to have little tufts of mulched grass after they mow is that's just what they're avoiding?

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:32:14] Yeah, I think that that's part of it. It can be unsightly, but usually it's only like that if you've waited too long in between mowing, if you're mowing on a pretty regular basis, the clipping amounts tend to be really the length, I should say, tends to be short. And so they filter down into the canopy. You don't usually see them. Other people don't like it because especially if they've got kiddo's and those kiddos are running around outside and sometimes tracking it in, that can be a little bit of a deterrent to what are some of the ecosystem services that stuff around us do that we might not be aware of.The gist of my main research question right now, and we've talked about a couple cooling around our homes and our institutional buildings because of the landscapes around them. There can also be sequestration of carbon. Of course, something that we haven't talked about too much is stormwater management. So while we don't get tons and tons of precipitation here in Utah every now and then, we do, of course. And maybe you've noticed in your utility bill a stormwater fee that reading bills.

 

Wyatt: [00:33:22] I mean, I just don't look at it. It's all on autopay

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:33:26] Well, if you did have a look at your utility bill, you might see a line item for stormwater. And so our communities are having to manage that. So like all the gutters and the storm drains and things, all that has to be managed.And what makes it harder to manage is when a whole lot of soil or a whole lot of stuff that you don't want oil.I mean, horrible stuff ends up in those gutters and storm drains. And so we pay in every community. We pay for the management of those facilities. So one ecosystem service, I'll call it, of ornamental landscapes can be that it keeps soils on site. It keeps nutrients on site.Let's just talk about grasses. We're talking a lot about grasses, but grasses, they're really dense, right? If you look down at a lawn, it's super dense. There's not soil showing typically. And so water that falls there tends to stay there, tends to sit and allow infiltration, anything that's coming from the atmosphere. And that can actually include some pretty interesting pollutants. But it stays on site and can sometimes be taken up by the plants, but it prevents it from ending up in stormwater systems.And that is the exact sort of impact I want to be making.

 

Wyatt: [00:34:50] Yeah, I'm going to list some types of people and I want you to, like, tell me what you would want those people to know. So what would you want homeowner to know? What would you want a community leader to know? What would you want high school science teacher to know?

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:35:03] Ok. I would want a homeowner to know that they can very, very likely water less than they currently are.

 

Wyatt: [00:35:13] I you know, another part of my work I don't just work on grass is I do a lot with irrigation and irrigation efficiency. And I've had a long running program in the Salt Lake City area where we've been helping folks develop irrigation schedules. And through that program, I've just been was afraid to say a little appalled at how much people irrigate. And I don't think there's you know, they aren't they don't have bad intentions. They just need some help, which is what we're providing. And so homeowners, I think they can get by with a lot less water than they think. And I would like them to know that the plant material in their landscapes is a lot tougher than they think. I think a lot of homeowners look around and they think, oh, my you know, my poor little baby shrub, what am I going to do, you know, that kind of an attitude.But plants are tough, you know,

 

Wyatt: [00:36:07] Like what's kind of a typical schedule and like, how much should you water it during those watering?

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:36:12] Well, I'm going to give you the standard academic response, which it depends. It really just depends on the plant material. I mean, that's why this program that I was just talking about in the Salt Lake area, it's really labor intensive. I mean, we're there for a couple hours at a property looking at exactly what's going on, relating the plants to the irrigation system, to the climate, et cetera, giving them a customized schedule.

 

Wyatt: [00:36:41] So I have a better question. How often and for how long do you water your lawn for?

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:36:48] Oh, OK.So I take the general approach of deeper but less frequent watering. So it's going to change over the course of the growing season, in the spring and even the fall in the spring, I put off irrigating as long as I possibly can to encourage the rooting. And then maybe I'm irrigating once or twice a week. I might irrigate three times a week during the very hottest part of the summer, but then I very quickly go back down to one or two times a week, starting in August, September, and then turn it off as soon as I possibly can.

 

Wyatt: [00:37:26] Do you have a sprinkler system or are you out there moving hoses around?

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:37:30] I have a sprinkler system, if I may. Just maybe something you can decide to use it or not. But, you know, one of the big pushes in the state right now is even with the state's division of water resources in the water districts, they're trying to get folks to use irrigation controllers that are working from a weather signal or weather information.So they're rebating controllers for anyone in the state at Utah water dot com, you can sign up. In fact, I'm going to do that because my controller died this summer. And you can get all kinds of controllers. Some of the really cool ones out there are wi fi based. They get their information from a Wi-Fi signal and then you can control it with your phone from anywhere in the world. It's super cool stuff. And we've done research with those to show that they save a ton of water compared to what most people are doing on their own.

 

Wyatt: [00:38:21] Yeah, yeah. So what would you want community leaders to know?

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:38:26] So community leaders, I think let's see what I want community leaders to know. You know, this is a bit self-serving, but I wish that community leaders would take a little better advantage of extension. Extension has offices in every county of the state and provide support for all kinds of things, including everything we're talking about here today. And so it's a resource that I think is underutilized. And I think they could have answers to questions about water and landscapes and efficiency. You know, pretty quickly, if they were interacting more often with their local extension offices.

 

Wyatt: [00:39:10] What would you want high school science teachers to know?

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:39:14] Oh, gosh. You know, I really loved science when I was in school, especially junior high. I had a science teacher in junior high that just he changed everything about what I thought I wanted to do. I had no idea what I wanted to do. But after his class, I thought, I want to be a scientist, but.I never got through all of my science education, you know, whether junior high or high school, I never was exposed to the kind of work that I'm doing now. If science teachers could maybe think a little bit more broadly and allow their students to relate a science interest to more topics like things we're talking about today. I think that would be really helpful.

 

Wyatt: [00:39:59] What would you want contractors to know, like home builders?

 

Kelly Kopp: [00:40:03] Hmm. So I if I could have home builders become more aware of some of these newer varieties, not only of grasses, but other plant materials as well, and start utilizing those instead of just like. You know, here's what we do everywhere.Yeah, here's what we do everywhere and what we've been doing for the past 20 years. So let's just keep doing it. That is just not that's not taking the best advantage of the information that's out there in all of this, the work and research and effort that's gone into developing this stuff.It's just I know and I appreciate that it's easy to take that approach, but easy isn't always necessarily better. Yeah.And it doesn't get us down the road towards our goals of of resource positive landscapes or lower water use or water conservation.

 

Wyatt: [00:40:57] That was my conversation with Kelly Kopp, thanks for listening to this episode of Instead and let's remember the grass isn't the bad guy. It can be part of a resource positive approach to landscaping. Make sure to go to researchlandscapes.usu.edu To sign up for the virtual research landscapes presentation the telescope will be giving on March 2nd. There are links to that and other resources and the description for this episode. This episode of Instead was produced by me Wyatt Traughber with the help of Nick Vázquez as part of our work in the Office of Research at Utah State University.