Dealing with Drought and Water Restrictions: Trees Atlanta
(Atlanta, GA)- Trees Atlanta, in partnership with the city’s Department of Watershed Management, recycles the water flushed daily from fire hydrants to soak 3,000 downtown trees and hundreds in surrounding neighborhoods.
Planting trees is just the beginning. Small trees generally require 10 gallons of water upon planting and every week thereafter, and large trees may require 20 gallons or more per week for optimum health. Depending on weather conditions, tree species and location, these figures can significantly increase. Ensuring that trees receive adequate water is labor intensive and is complicated by water shortages and drought conditions in many areas throughout the country.
Several organizations in the Alliance for Community Trees network have developed creative methods both for providing an efficient labor force and for stretching the water supply through conservation and recycling. Three examples follow.
Trees Atlanta, through various volunteer programs, annually plants and distributes approximately 4,500 trees — 3,000 in the downtown area and 1,500 in selected neighborhoods. A key challenge has been to keep these trees watered utilizing both an in-house maintenance crew and neighborhood volunteers.
Several years ago, Trees Atlanta developed a partnership with the city Fire Department which allowed Trees Atlanta to use water from fire hydrants for tree watering throughout the city as needed.
Two years ago, the Georgia Department of National Resources mandated water restrictions in the Atlanta area due to drought conditions. This ended the use of fire hydrants for routine watering, but that didn’t thwart Trees Atlanta.
Hydrant flushing and collection program
Trees Atlanta noticed that certain fire hydrants throughout the area still needed to be flushed on a daily basis to test performance and safety. The organization worked with the city’s Department of Watershed Management to find a way to recapture that water.
The result was an arrangement whereby Trees Atlanta is notified of the fire hydrant flushing schedule and is allowed to capture the flushed water and use it for its watering program.
In order to retrieve and transport the flushed water, Trees Atlanta has four water tanks– two large ones pulled by trailers attached to pick-up trucks and two smaller ones mounted on trucks– with a combined capacity of 3,600 gallons.
The Georgia Water Wise Council, a partnership between government, education, business, and citizens to promote water conservation throughout the state, provided a $5,000 grant for the purchase of one of the larger tanks. Trees Atlanta also collects water from its office roof into two large storage tanks with a combined capacity of 6,300 gallons.
In addition, Trees Atlanta purchased pumps to expedite the transfer of water from hydrant to tank. The fire department has allowed Trees Atlanta to use its fire hoses for the program.
The water collected is used primarily for the 3,000 downtown trees annually planted and cared for by Trees Atlanta. Residents are encouraged to provide both the water and the labor for trees planted in the neighborhoods but Trees Atlanta supplements their efforts as needed.
Trees Atlanta has a maintenance crew that waters trees on weekdays. Volunteers distribute the water on weekends.
Education and outreach
Trees Atlanta also has an active outreach and education program on how to conserve, collect and recycle water as well as on how to most effectively water trees and shrubs. Information is provided on Trees Atlanta’s website, www.treesatlanta.org, as well as through its newsletter, The Atlanta Treebune.
Trees Atlanta also utilizes products that increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their watering efforts.
For example, Trees Atlanta adds hydro-gel products such as Terra-Sorb or Soil Moist to root balls when planting trees. These products help the roots hold moisture.
In addition, Trees Atlanta uses slow-release water bags which deliver a high volume of water directly to the root system of newly planted trees with no run-off or evaporation. These bags significantly reduce the amount of time spent watering each tree.
Through its partnership with the Department of Watershed Management, Trees Atlanta collects almost 2,000 gallons of water each day — water that would otherwise be wasted — and uses it to water the 3,000 downtown trees annually planted by Trees Atlanta.
1. Water conservation requires an integrated long-term strategy. No one program or product will solve your needs.
2. Any lasting change requires a change in public perception and behavior. This educational effort takes time and multi-faceted approaches.
3. Be a good role model of water conservation and tree care. Your actions will speak louder than your words.
4. Do not let water shortages or drought conditions stop your planting efforts. Your communities need trees. Instead, be creative in your watering efforts. Be mindful of what species you plant and where. Collect and use recycled water as much as possible.
5. Ask everyone to help. There are many partnership possibilities for water conversation efforts. In addition to public agencies, many companies and universities are now turning their attention to environmental issues. See if companies in your area have sustainability departments.
6. Bring the conversation to the forefront. Be pro-active. Don’t wait for a crisis.
Marcia Bansley, Executive Director
Robby Astrove, Project Coordinator
225 Chester Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30316–1205