F&M could promote a healthy ecosystem by changing the irrigation process

By E Marcovitz || Contributing Writer

Have you ever looked out of your dorm room window, overlooking a sports’ field or other large grassy area, and noticed the sprinklers generously watering the grass? With a prime view of the football practice field behind New College House on a daily basis it is clear that having well irrigated fields is important to F&M. Multiple times a day the field gets water sprayed over all corners. While it is important to ensure that the grass of a continually used field has consistent access to a water source, the frequency and method of irrigating the field should be reconsidered. The focus of Franklin and Marshall’s facilities’ personnel must include, not only the health of the grass, but also the sustainability of the practice and the consequences this practice has on the surrounding ecosystem. Water is a nonrenewable natural resource. Conceptualizing the idea of a need for water conservation can be difficult, when it appears that there is a never-ending supply. However, this does not diminish the importance of being aware of our water usage, and actively engaging in methods of conserving this precious resource.

When people are presented with ways to conserve water, the basis of these suggestions is generally individuals’ daily activities and practices. Rarely is concern placed on larger systems, like the college’s facilities’ personnel, who are using a much larger quantity of water than any one individual. As I have had the opportunity to observe our fields and lawns being irrigated, it has become all too clear to me that we need to be rightfully placing the blame on these systems if we have an interest in living and learning on a more sustainable campus. Just like agricultural fields and construction sites, irrigated fields on our campus should be using Best Management Practices (BMPs) to limit the negative consequences the maintenance of the field has on the watershed and the surrounding ecosystem. One way to limit the water needed to maintain the field is to spray during the coolest and darkest parts of the day, usually anytime between the late evening to the early morning. By avoiding the warmer and brighter parts of the day, the amount of water that will be evaporated decreases considerably. In addition, the drip irrigation method is a great alternative to the sprinkler irrigation method. Instead of spraying water into the air, causing a high percentage of evaporation, the drip irrigation method drips the water slowly and directly onto the soil. In addition to limiting the quantity of water used, it is important to address the quality of the water as it affects the rest of the ecosystem.

The field directly behind New College House is surrounded by impervious surfaces, which allow for the water to easily run off into the drains on the streets, while carrying any nutrients added to the field, and any contaminants, like gasoline, picked up by the runoff from the impervious surfaces. While it is unclear how all of the water from storm water drains is treated in Lancaster County, it is inevitable that much of the runoff will end up directly into a river or stream, which leads eventually to the Chesapeake Bay. In the long term, nutrients entering a body of water from run off will lead to a process that results in dead zones; areas of the water that are no longer able to sustain any type of life. The most successful BMP at decreasing the nutrients that runoff from the field to a nearby body of water is a riparian buffer. Building a riparian buffer would involve lining much of the field with trees. This method serves a few purposes. The strong roots of the trees keep the soil in place, preventing erosion, and in turn, preventing sedimentation. The roots of trees also have the ability to absorb the nutrients and much of the water from the runoff, acting as a buffer between the field and the rest of the ecosystem. As we move forward, it is important to always be thinking about sustainability, and ways in which we, as individuals and as a campus, can lessen our effects on the environment. Through a more critical view of the way we irrigate our large, grassy areas at F&M, and the application of multiple Best Management Practices, we can have thriving green areas on campus and a healthy ecosystem.

First-year E Marcovitz is a contributing writer. Their email is emarcovi@fandm.edu.

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