City officials pushing for xeriscaping

Argen Duncan

A group of Portales city councilors are pushing for a water conservation measure they say should have been enacted decades ago.

Councilors Keith Thomas, Gary Watkins and Ron Jackson, with help from city Planning Director Sammy Standefer, are working to write an ordinance that would require new construction to have all private yards 50 percent xeriscaped.

Watkins said the ordinance would go before the Planning and Zoning Commission and be subject to a public hearing before the council could vote on it.

Thomas raised the issue at the last city council meeting, after doing research and working with Jackson and Watkins.

“This is not in any way forcing anybody to change their yards,” Thomas said, stressing the ordinance would affect new construction only.

Several new subdivisions in Portales are putting in xeriscaped yards already.

“It’s not going to affect this generation at all, but it’s going to affect our kids and grandkids and great-grandkids,” Thomas said.

He hopes to challenge the other communities drawing from the Ogallala Aquifer to enact similar laws.

Watkins said the xeriscaping requirement would work in conjunction with the effort to build the Ute Water Pipeline. The pipeline received no federal money for the upcoming fiscal year, and even with the money, Thomas said it would take seven or eight years before Portales would see any water from it.

In addition, Watkins said the city only has half to three-fourths of the water reserves it needs.

Also, the councilors want to develop a program to reward homeowners for converting existing yards to xeriscaping. But they don’t yet know what incentives they can offer with the city’s limited finances.

Watkins also said water conservation efforts could lead to mandatory water restrictions. Portales has voluntary restrictions, which encourage residents to water only on certain days, in the morning and evening.

“But we need to look into putting some teeth into that,” Watkins said.

Watkins said water conservation was a “double-edged sword” for the city, because less water use would mean a drop in revenue. However, Thomas said there was no choice but to conserve water.

Curt Jaynes of GardenSource Nursery and Landscaping Inc. said homeowners can use different colored rocks and a wide variety of native and drought-tolerant trees, shrubs, flowers and ornamental grasses to xeriscape their yards.

“A lot of times, people think ‘xeriscape’ means ‘zero-scape,’ and it doesn’t,” he said.

Chinese pistache trees, red yuccas, butterfly bushes and gaillardia and echinacea flowers are among the plants that can add color to water-conservative yards.

Jaynes said mulch to hold moisture in the soil and drip irrigation, which delivers water straight to the root of the plant, are also valuable for water conservation.

Since Jaynes opened his business seven years ago, he said, more and more people are converting their yards to xeriscaping. The conversion can almost pay for itself with savings in water, fertilizer and mowing, as well as helping the environment, he said.

Jaynes has xeriscaping at his home.

“I’m sold on the idea,” he said.