Trees provide a range of quantifiable ecosystem services in the communities where we live, work, and play. Examples include habitat production, decreased heat island effects, energy cost savings, increased property values, shortened hospital stays, carbon sequestration, phytoremediation, and better air quality. As an irrigation designer, your objective is to ensure these benefits while removing landscape features that are not sustainable. In some cases, it could mean eliminating irrigation altogether.
The anti-irrigation concept is a hot topic throughout the industry. In reality, it’s largely a reaction by some misinformed arborists and city officials to outdated irrigation practices. The truth is that modern irrigation technologies are an integral part of well-designed green initiatives. Today’s cutting-edge techniques allow more effective management of water and other natural resources — and do a better job of supporting long-lasting green infrastructure — than ever before.
The growing severity of climate conditions is another reason why the anti-irrigation argument falls short. In today’s drier conditions, irrigation is essential to support the health and well-being of trees, and in turn, our communities. As we plant trees to absorb harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, we must safeguard them against the climate change they help us fight.
It’s also important to understand that it takes time for trees to mature to the point where they can maximize their contributions to the world around them. A newly planted tree carries an inherent carbon weight, which includes the impacts of growing, transporting, and planting the tree.
According to a study funded by the Southern Nevada Water Authority, a water municipality, it takes an average of 5 to 7 years for trees to become carbon neutral. After that time, the ecosystem services the tree provides outweigh the impacts caused by its initial growth and management. A well-designed and properly managed irrigation system helps to ensure that trees reach carbon neutrality and thrive to become net-positive carbon assets.
Although eliminating irrigation may sound sustainable, it’s often not a viable choice for optimized landscape projects that bring the most benefits to our outdoor living spaces. Increasing periods of drought require landscape designs with supplemental irrigation solutions for trees. When paired with the right management tools, irrigation supports heathy, thriving trees that provide valuable ecosystem services throughout our communities today, tomorrow, and in the years to come.