“Don’t Be a Drip: Online Rain Barrel Workshop,” presented by The Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership. (Video courtesy: Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership Inc. and The Hammonton Gazette)

HAMMONTON—Since mid-June, Hammonton and the surrounding region have been experiencing high temperatures with little rainfall. Long-term weather forecasts indicate that, with few exceptions, these conditions are expected to continue.

One of the perils of the conditions is the drought-like conditions that follow. According to Councilman Steven Furgione, who serves as chair of the Water and Sewer Committee, Hammonton has seen an increase in water usage.

“We’ve been pumping significantly; we’re seeing an uptick on the water-side. We’ve been nearing 2 million gallons a day now, pumping water, since the end of June. Our normal should be, in the summer months, 1 to 1.2 million gallons a day, give or take a little bit. Obviously, summers are our highest demand, but we’re a solid 750,000 gallons per day more than our normal average,” Furgione said.

These numbers persist despite recent rainfalls.

“Installing things like rain barrels—capturing what’s coming off your roof so that’s not entering the stormwater system—installing rain gardens—which allow water to circulate back into the ground and recharge the aquifer—those are really important, especially in light of the big, sudden storms where a lot of rain falls quickly, which, unfortunately, happen more and more with climate change.”

Mica McCullough, Hammonton Green Committee Chair

Furgione said that one of the reasons for the higher-than-average water usage is the increase in the amount that residents are using to water their lawns and gardens. Furgione, who also owns TLC Landscape Co., suggested a different way to water one’s lawn.

“What we’ve doing, instead of watering, for instance, 30 or 45 minutes, we’re actually watering for 15 minutes, letting our irrigation run through, and going back and hitting the same area a few hours later. This way, the initial shot of water really doesn’t soak in, but it gets the ground and grass prepped so that, when you hit it a second time a few hours later, it starts to soak in. We’ve been running it both ways, and we’re finding much better results doing it that way,” he said.

Mica McCullough, the chair of the Hammonton Green Committee, said that another easy way to save water and money, in conjunction with Furgione’s suggestion, is to be mindful of the time of day when watering.

“If you have a timer, you can set it to run the sprinkler between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. That’s because of evaporation. If you run the sprinkler and you’re trying to water the ground at 3 p.m., 95 percent of it is just going away into the air and you’re losing so much of the effective utility of the sprinkler system. Doing it early in the morning before the sun is really up and there’s still dew on the ground is a great way to make sure that the water you’re using is actually getting to the plants you’re trying to water,” McCullough said.

McCullough also suggested testing the efficacy of a sprinkler, utilizing something as simple as a tuna fish can—or anything similarly short and stout.

“You place them on your lawn and run your sprinkler for a period of time. Ideally, if the sprinkler system is placed in the most effective way, every can should have the same amount of water in it. If there are some dry, or if some are overflowing, then that means that those parts of the yard are getting under- or over-watered. So definitely test the effectiveness of your sprinkler system,” McCullough said.

Rain Sensors

Mayor Stephen DiDonato advised residents to be mindful of weather conditions while irrigating.

“I encourage residents to monitor the rainfall and try to take advantage of the rainfall to save themselves some money. Or, install a rain sensor. If you have one, make sure it’s wired and working; see if it needs a battery. A rain sensor would be a good thing,” he said.

Hammonton Environmental Commission chair Dan Bachalis concurred.

“Get a rain sensor for your irrigation system, so that, if you have your system on an automatic schedule, you don’t run it when it’s raining. If you’re putting in an irrigation system, make sure it is a smart irrigation system which has a sensor, and also hopefully knows how much water it’s putting into the ground so that, when the ground is wet enough deep enough, it’ll stop automatically,” he said.

Bachalis also noted that smart irrigation systems and rain sensors both qualify for a water conservation tax rebate from the town of Hammonton.

“You can get a rebate from the town by purchasing and installing those items. It’s not going to make you rich or eliminate your water bill, but it’s a little something that the town wants to give back to residents to encourage being smart about how we use our water,” Bachalis said.

The water conservation tax credit/rebate was authorized on December 16, 2013 through Ordinance #29-2013, which established criteria for “providing incentives to purchase and install a variety of water-conserving appliances, devices and technologies.”

According to the ordinance, “the tax credit/rebate amount will be applied, in the case of a municipal water user, to the next billing cycle and, in the case of a non-municipal water system user, in the form of a rebate via mail as soon as possible following approval of their application and the availability of funds … No credits/rebates or combination of credits/rebates may surpass $100 per year.”

The amount for a rain sensor is $25 or half the purchase price, whichever is less. The amount for a smart irrigation system is $100.

DiDonato said that such funds, both through the water conservation program and by being mindful of water usage, can add up.

“Any time you can save the environment and save a few dollars in your pocketbook, you’ve got to try to do it. Water’s a utility, and—especially in these times—if you can save, at the end of the year, $30, $40, $50, $60 by monitoring and shutting off a couple of days a week, or longer sometimes with the right amount of rainfall, that would be a positive thing for everybody: the environment and your pocketbook,” he said.

“Raise the Deck”

Besides watering, Furgione said that an easy way to keep lawns healthy is to vary the height at which they are cut.

“We cut low in the spring when the grass is growing high, and then we cut high in the summer. For example, most of our properties are cut around three or 3.25 inches in the spring. We raise our decks to around four or 4.25 all summer, then we go back in the fall and start dropping them again when things cool off. You want to take off less of the grass blade and let the grass remain healthy. If you’re cutting a lawn in the summer, raise it up a little bit higher and it won’t burn up the lawn,” he said.

McCullough said that, when dealing with vegetable gardens, irrigation systems like lawn sprinklers can do more harm than good. Instead, she recommended the use of a watering can to deliver the water directly in the soil around the base of the plant.

“That’s for two reasons: one, you’re not going to be losing anything to evaporation that way; and two, in the heat of summer, droplets of water on the plant leaves can act like a magnifying glass to the rays of the sun and burn the leaves. It seems counterintuitive, because you’d think that the hotter it is the more you should water, but take special care not to get water on the leaves if you’re watering in the heat of the day for that exact reason,” McCullough said.

Bachalis suggested using water one usually discards as a way to irrigate the garden and other plants.

“If you’re running your water to get it hot—you’re doing dishes or something like that—you can try to capture the water before it gets hot and use that to water your indoor and outdoor plants. Again, it’s a way to use water that you’re running and it’s going down the drain and you’re paying for it, so you might as well find a way to get some use out of it,” he said.

Rain Gardens and Native Plants

He also recommended the installation of another type of garden that would decrease the size of one’s lawn and thus lower the amount of water usage.

“One other way to both reduce the size of your lawn and also help the town handle stormwater and flooding issues better is to install a rain garden that captures water from your rooftop or your gutters and channels it into a shallow depression that you’ve planted with … plants that are native to New Jersey, and preferably native to the Pinelands. If not, at least native to New Jersey or the Northeast so they can deal with the climatic conditions that they experience naturally. Other plants from other parts of the world are not as well-suited to the area as native New Jersey plants,” Bachalis said.

McCullough concurred with the idea of utilizing native plants.

“Native plants are native to this area because they can handle drought. They’re drought-tolerant; they don’t need nearly as much water. In the heat and dryness of August, just drive around; if there are still wildflowers blooming in certain areas, that means they’re native plants. They can still survive a drought, they can survive without periods of rainfall,” McCullough said. McCullough noted that there are several resources to find such plants, including the Jersey Friendly Yards program, which can be found at www.jerseyyards.org.

“They have a great tool that can show native plants, and you can pick which ones you want to use—if you want to attract pollinators or wildlife or anything like that—and redesign your yard. If you have a lot of time and you want to re-do the whole thing to save water, that would be a great way to do it,” McCullough said.

Rain Barrels

McCullough had another suggestion for those who have neither a sprinkler system nor a desire to increase their water bill.

“A great way to conserve energy is to have a rain-harvesting system. A cistern or a rain barrel that all the gutters run into. Rain barrels are 55 gallons; they’re great in those periods in between heavy rainfalls … Ideally, you’d have one at the base of each rain gutter so that water would run off the roof into the rain barrel,” she said.

Bachalis agreed.

“You can use that water to water your garden instead of running your sprinklers all the time. I’ve done that, and I have saved beaucoup water throughout the summertime, to the point that, even during the summer, I don’t think I go above the first tier of water usage when you look at how the rates are structured,” he said.

For more information about rain barrels and how to make them, McCullough suggested watching “Don’t Be a Drip: Online Rain Barrel Workshop,” presented by The Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, which can be found at https://youtu.be/0K8qdcx5ee0.

McCullough reiterated the need for such measures to not only help conserve water but to combat stormwater and flooding issues. 

“Installing things like rain barrels—capturing what’s coming off your roof so that’s not entering the stormwater system—installing rain gardens—which allow water to circulate back into the ground and recharge the aquifer—those are really important, especially in light of the big, sudden storms where a lot of rain falls quickly, which, unfortunately, happen more and more with climate change,” McCullough said.

This story was produced in collaboration with CivicStory and the New Jersey Sustainability Reporting project. It was originally reported by Joseph F. Berenato for The Hammonton Gazette, and may be re-distributed through the Creative Commons License, with attribution.

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