Remember last winter? The one that was so cold? Like, really, really, super cold? Thankfully, the much-hyped phenomenon known as the Polar Vortex, which sent a good portion of the country into a deep freeze and quickly became the buzzword of the winter, has finally disappeared, and we can all get back to complaining about the heat/humidity/pollen count, etc. For field managers in some Western states, you may have even more cause for complaint this summer.

Long-range predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) suggest that the drought conditions that have been affecting much of the Western U.S. will persist, and possibly intensify, as we head into the summer months. Because of below-average rain/ snow this winter and the onset of the dry season in April, California, Nevada, much of Oregon and Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, southeast Colorado, western Oklahoma and west Texas are likely to be the hardest hit by continuing drought conditions.

NOAA warned that, “If the drought persists as predicted in the West and Southwest, it will likely result in an active wildfire season, continued stress on crops and livestock due to low water levels, and an expansion of water conservation measures.”

Field managers and turf care pros out West are preparing for the worst (and hoping for the best) by taking a proactive approach to reduce water usage. I recently read about an aggressive conservation plan being implemented at Fresno State in California that aims to reduce the school’s water consumption by 20 precent over the next year. As part of the initiative, groundskeepers are incorporating new technology to assist in reducing the water requirements of turf at the facility.

Map courtesy of The National Integrated Drought Information System (

A machine, developed as part of Fresno State’s Incubator project, uses 3,000 pounds of pressure to aerate existing turf and deposit hydrogel packs 8 inches underground. The packs hold 40 times their weight in water, and release moisture to the roots as needed. So far, the system shows promise as a water saving strategy; it has been successful in test areas including the Lady Bulldogs softball stadium and the Fresno State Peace Garden.

Since we can’t change the weather, innovations like this will be the key to keeping fields safe and playable in extremely dry conditions. While the West waits for some relief from the drought, field managers, manufacturers and turf scientists continue to develop new products and techniques to reduce water consumption while maintaing healthy turf.

Katie Meyers