Water > Landscaping

Efficient landscaping design and strategies can be an opportunity to substantially reduce outdoor water use.


Consider the following design strategies and irrigation practices to improve the water efficiency of your landscaping across your sports facilities:

  • Use xeriscaping techniques
  • Choose locally adapted and water-efficient plants
  • Mulch around plants to prevent evaporation, and keep roots cool and moist in hotter climates
  • Water plants overnight or at the coolest part of the day to avoid evaporation
  • Use efficient irrigation technologies
  • Install submeters to help identify leaks and track consumption, and regularly check systems for leaks or damage
  • Use non-potable water for irrigation, such as captured rainwater, greywater, or recycled wastewater


Consider xeriscaping techniques when designing your landscaping. Xeriscaping is a landscaping method that reduces or eliminates the need for irrigation, and is especially beneficial in arid regions where water is scarce.

The basic principles of xeriscaping include proper site design, soil analysis and improvement, water-efficient plant selection, practical turf areas, efficient irrigation, mulching, and appropriate maintenance.  For more information on xeriscaping, visit Denver Water’s Xeriscaping page or CalRecycle’s Xeriscaping page.


Choose native, adaptive, and drought-tolerant plants.  Native plants that grow naturally in an area require less water, fertilizer, and pest control.  Visit the Plant Conservation Alliance for information about native plants you can grow in your state, as well as invasive species to be avoided in your area.

Adaptive plants are non-native, but can adapt well to the region’s local climate and soil conditions. By choosing native, adaptive, and drought-tolerant plants for your landscaping, which require less water, your sports departments and institution can save water and money.


Drip irrigation systems save water and reduce fertilizer needs by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots through a network of valves, pipes, or tubing.  This method reduces evaporation and surface runoff, increases irrigation efficiency to 90%. While a drip irrigation system might cost more upfront than a conventional irrigation system, reduced costs from water savings can often help offset these costs.

Weather-based irrigation controllers can also yield considerable water savings. Weather-based control systems adjust irrigation scheduling to actual conditions onsite or historical weather data, to allow for changes in watering schedules based on weather conditions and water requirements for plants.  Soil moisture sensors and rain sensors are also useful technologies to make watering schedules more efficient.

For a detailed guide on efficient landscaping and outdoor water use, see WaterWise Landscaping and Watering Guide.

For a detailed guide on water use efficiency, see New Mexico’s Water Conservation Guide for Commercial, Institutional and Industrial Users.


>> University of Florida’s Heavener Football Complex, constructed in 2008, features native plants and efficient irrigation systems that decrease water demand by 50 percent. 100 percent reclaimed water is used for irrigation and 100 percent of wastewater is treated on-site (at campus wastewater treatment plant). University of Florida’s Southwest Recreation Center also features 100 percent native plants, which reduce water use by 90 percent. Also, 100 percent reclaimed water is used for irrigation. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

>> In 2012, Princeton University’s Athletics updated its field hockey turf water cannon system. In the past it used as much as 12,000 gallons of water to wet the field for every practice and every game. The upgraded turf requires only 1,200 gallons and a single pass of the new, more efficient water cannons, saving at least 10,000 gallons of water each time the field is used. Even on a hot day the field needs two passes at most, using less than 2,000 gallons of water. Princeton Athletics also developed a new method of turf placement for all irrigation heads that eliminates water loss. To learn more, read the full feature in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

>> In 2009, University of Arizona did an $18.6 million expansion of their Student Recreation Center and achieved LEED Platinum certification. Plants surrounding the expansion were selected for their ability to thrive with minimal watering. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

>> The University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium reduced potable water use for landscape irrigation by 50 percent relative to a standard building of the same size and type by planting native and adaptive plants and improving irrigation efficiency. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

>> The Harvard Business School installed a computerized irrigation system that monitors ambient rainfall and weather, at a total cost of under $250,000. The system senses the irrigation needs of zones all around the campus and keeps moisture levels in balance throughout the year. The system saves almost 5 million gallons of water every year, totaling about $50,000 in annual savings. To learn more, read the full feature in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.


>> The Miami HEAT save almost $11,000 annually due to greater irrigation efficiency at their AmericanAirlines Arena. All irrigation of planters and landscaped areas is done by a drip system or a soak system that applies water directly to the roots, and all lines have low-flow nozzles. Also, timers are used so that irrigation takes place in the middle of the night in order to minimize evaporation. The HEAT permanently installed water meters to measure the consumption of potable water and water used in irrigating all landscaped areas. The meters are monitored on a weekly basis.  To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Game Changer report.

>> The Houston Rockets’ Toyota Center reduced landscaping water use by 50 percent by using native and drought-tolerant plants and installing a drip irrigation system that waters plants at the roots and reduces evaporation. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Game Changer report.


Improving the water efficiency of landscaping at your sports facilities can help your institution earn points within the “Water” subcategory of AASHE’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS). It can directly contribute to earning up to 9 points for the STARS Water subcategory, encompassing the credits “OP 26: Water Use,” “OP 27: Rainwater Management,” and “OP 28: Wastewater Management.” Work with sustainability and facilities staff on your campus to support any institutional efforts to attain or improve your institution’s STARS rating. Use the STARS 2.0 Technical Manual to learn more.


In the summer, outdoor water use for landscaping can exceed all indoor water use for the entire year. Native species of grasses, plants, and trees have evolved for hundreds of thousands of years and are well adapted to regional climates, soils, and pests. Because of this, they require less water, fertilizer, and pesticides, saving money, conserving water, and reducing water pollution.

Conventional irrigation technologies and daytime watering often results in water evaporating before it can be consumed by plants. By using water-efficient irrigation technologies such as drip irrigation, and by watering in the evening and overnight, your sports facilities can reduce the amount of water that evaporates, saving water and saving money.


NRDC – Water
AASHE Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS)
AASHE STARS 2.0 Technical Manual
EPA – Green Landscaping
EPA WaterSense
EPA – Using Water Efficiently: Tips for businesses
EPA – Water Efficiency Programs by State
Bay-Friendly Landscaping
USDA Natural Resources Conservation List of Drought-Tolerant Plants