Wasted water is all around us. Graduate student Alan Moss is working toward a solution through research on deficit irrigation.
The project, titled “Deficit Irrigation on Bermudagrass,” aims to show that grass can be watered less, to conserve water, and still look healthy.
Bermuda grass is most commonly used on golf courses and sports fields, two areas that use considerable water. At the same time, golf is a popular Southern California pastime and an important industry to the state’s economy. In 2011, it generated a total economic impact of $13.1 billion, supporting over 128,000 jobs.
Because California has been in a drought for the past few years, water conservation – even on pristine golf courses – is more important than ever.
“We should find ways to conserve water in the landscape, or sports turf and golf courses, which take up huge amounts of water,” Moss says. “That’d be a good thing because nobody wants to see those things go away.”
In between citrus groves and older classroom buildings, the test plots of grass are a pop of color in a quiet area of campus. The plots of grass each receive a different watering treatment: 100 percent, 75 percent or 50 percent.
Moss and his adviser, Plant Science Professor Robert Green, rate the plots on a 1 to 9 visual scale, checking for browning and other signs of drought. A 1 means that the grass is all brown and dead; a 5 is minimally acceptable quality that has some browning and lower green color and normally less leaf coverage; a 9 means the color and quality is at its best.
In addition to the visual scale, Moss weighs clippings biweekly to check on its condition. The healthier plots grow more grass, so this method will give results even before the plots begin to brown.
Moss will be working on the project all summer, when water conservation is crucial in hot conditions.
Moss earned his undergraduate degree in plant science in 2013 and wanted to continue his education by pursuing his master’s in agriculture, with an emphasis in irrigation.
“Irrigation always interested me,” Moss says. “Using hydraulics, putting water where water usually isn’t, and being efficient with it.”
Green received a nearly $25,000 grant for the project from the California State University Agricultural Research Institute, with the plan that a graduate student could share in it for a thesis project. Since Moss is interested in irrigation, it seemed a natural fit for him.
“Alan is a good research assistant because of his abilities and experience, along with being a hard worker,” Green says. “He is also careful with detail which is needed for producing data that are reliable.”
Moss and Green plan to write a summary of their research and give presentations to various professionals in the recreation industry, such as golf course and sports field superintendents.