SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — You step out into your garage, walk across the floor, flip open the door to your sprinkler box and hit start. The time is 12:03 p.m. on Thursday, June 1, and your house number is 2308.
Two minutes later your phone rings. It’s the water department, and you’re busted. Your violation? Watering within prohibited hours and on the wrong day of the month.
If this seems dramatic, that’s because it is.
While there are restrictions to what time and on which days of the month you can water, the practice is in many ways run as a sort of honor system. Sure, an annoyed neighbor could turn you in, or perhaps your water usage may be much higher than expected, but even though you are technically violating a city ordinance, a citation is unlikely to occur, especially on your first offense.
Instead, says Darin Freese, water program coordinator for the City of Sioux Falls, the main focus is on education.
“The lawn watering schedule is actually an ordinance, so it is enforceable and it is something we can issue several penalties for,” said Freese, “but our program runs on education.”
Freese says the water department sends out mailers, brochures, and encourages anyone with questions to visit the city’s Water Conservation page.
In most cases, the city will attempt to remedy any watering errors with a phone call or a door hanger with the proper schedule. If they do make a phone call, however, they’re bringing receipts.
“We have the capability of being able to look in our system and identify whether someone watered their grass today, yesterday or the day before,” explained Freese.
So about those restrictions. Right now, Freese says we’re in stage 1, which is the stage of the fewest restrictions on water usage.
Lawn watering schedule for Sioux Falls in stage 1
- Lawn watering prohibited from noon – 5:00 p.m.
- Even-numbered addresses may water on even-numbered calendar dates.
- Odd-numbered addresses may water on odd-numbered calendar dates.
Residents can hand-water shrubs, trees, ground covers, plants, vines, gardens, vegetables and flowers at any time of day, but only if the water is being applied by a hose that does not leak and which has a handheld nozzle that automatically shuts off when released.
Watering cans are also fair game.
“When we move into stage 2, you’re watering off the last digit of your address, and it’s a once-a-week watering schedule,” said Freese. This stage, triggered by a mix of drought and demand, was last reached in 2012, though Freese noted that twice in the summer of 2022 the city was one day away from hitting stage 2.
Stage 3 is no lawn watering at all. To Freese’s knowledge, we’ve never reached that point.
But why do we have these restrictions in the first place?
“It’s actually twofold,” said Freese. “The first part of it is for the customer. By watering every other day, it’s actually more beneficial for your grass. You water with more water, less often, — for the city, our infrastructure can only take so much — if everyone watered all at once, it would probably be more than we could supply.”
The noon to 5 p.m. restriction is similarly twofold. On the one hand, higher temperatures at that time of day cause a greater waste of water, and on the other hand, the lull in the middle of the day allows the city a refractory period to prepare for the evening surge in usage.
How much water can lawns actually use up though?
“On an average winter day we distribute around 16 million gallons of water,” Freese said. “Right now we’re distributing 41 million gallons.” A difference of around 25 million, Freese says this is in large part coming from lawn watering.
How do they know it’s from lawn watering? “The towers, reservoirs — all start dropping hard at 2:00 a.m,” Freese said. “They start coming back once people should be up,” usually around 6:00 a.m.
This 2-6 a.m. window, according to Freese is the time most people set their lawns to water.