With each issue, Trib+Water brings you an interview with experts on water-related issues. Here is this week's subject:
Clint Wolfe has worked for Texas A&M AgriLife Research for 15 years and currently serves as the program manager for Urban Water Programs at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas. In his current role, he facilitates a team of water resources professionals to assist with research and outreach programming in the areas of water quality, water use efficiency and watershed planning. Wolfe has a B.S. in animal science and a M.S. in agricultural economics with a focus on water and natural resources, both from Texas A&M University.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Trib+Water: How are you working with the community to inform them on water issues?
Clint Wolfe: We offer 22 different educational classes dealing with either water conservation or water quality. On the water quality side, we are mostly looking at nonpoint source pollution from an urban setting. We offer those classes not only at our research extension facility in Dallas but with about 60 other communities and organizations across the Metroplex to bring those classes to their communities as well.
We do everything ranging from landscape basics to plant selection for your landscape to drip irrigation conversions to how to set your sprinkler system. We also offer a bunch of educational programs that we do with schools. We have about 12 different youth programs ranging from kindergarten through 12th grade level that deal with nonpoint source pollution.
One of the most popular is a stream trailer where we talk about how streams meander about, flooding of banks, deposition of sediment into the river, about everything that flows off of the urban environment that can eventually end up in our creeks and into our surface water supply reservoirs. We eventually have to treat and then drink it.
Trib+Water: What is the audience you work with most in your water outreach?
Wolfe: We sort of have two focus audiences. One of them for conservation is definitely homeowners. People that have irrigation systems, people who are making choices about the water that they use, specifically outdoors.
We also have a youth component of conservation. Most of our youth component is dealing with water quality issues. It varies in types of audiences for youth. Some of them are schools, and their teachers take our training and then will go back and deliver those lessons. Or we go out to an elementary school and cycle through the fourth grade classes. Most of these events are tailored.
Fort Worth has an event called Waterama, where they bring in school-aged children and might have 30,000 kids in a few days. A lot of our events like that are either held at the school or outside of the school in a specific learning event that we have partnered with other organizations for educational outreach, like the Trinity Trash Bash.
Trib+Water: What is the ideal outcome of your outreach?
Wolfe: We always want people to increase their knowledge base. We hope that the messaging that we are giving out is easy for them to adopt in their home landscape, or what they are doing at home to either conserve water or protect water quality. They are learning about fertilization, applying the right amount herbicide or chemicals on their lawn and when and how much to apply, so they are not running off and contributing to water quality problems downstream. Those are always the goals to save water and improve water quality.
One of our classes, our rain barrel-making class, is very popular. People may say that it is only a 55-gallon barrel, you are only saving 55 gallons at a time, but it is very key for people to get that visual. When you have a downspout of water going into a barrel instead of washing out a hole in the their landscape and then that sediment is washing off down into the storm drain, they start to get it.
It also gives people an understanding of how much of that water is a finite resource. We always see the luxury of turning on the tap and the water is always there. If you have a 55-gallon barrel and it stops raining, you very quickly have to understand where you are going to prioritize the use of that water. And if it doesn’t rain again, it can go dry and there is none left. That is a huge learning point with the people we teach, how valuable water actually is.
For most people, water is cheap when you buy it from the city, so they don’t value it as much as they actually should. It is 55 gallons. It is right there in front of you. You can see the water level going down and down. You have to prioritize its use. That is when the light bulb comes on, and people finally get it. You can reference back to a lake, and you can actually see them get the big picture.
Trib+Water: What are the specific water issues in Dallas?
Wolfe: We work with North Texas Municipal Water District. Not just Dallas proper, but overall with the northern cities.
A lot of our cities are on twice-per-month water, instead of once a week or twice a week, which other cities in the Metroplex are doing. That is always a challenge, to retrain homeowners on how to properly manage their water use and landscaping for twice-per-month water.
People always think that if a little is good, more might be better. The clay soils in our area are very unforgiving, so only so much of the water can be absorbed in them within a 24-hour period. When you’re going to twice-per-month watering to once-a-week watering, our soils just can’t hold anymore. People want to run their irrigation system twice as long, and all it is doing is running off and it's not being beneficial. Half the water that they are paying for is just running down the street and carrying with it all the chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides that they put on their lawns.
Trying to get the normal citizen to understand the water carrying capacity of our soil and how to properly irrigate may be the greatest challenge we face in the Metroplex.