A bulldozer pushed strips of grass and dirt into rolls like used carpet this week as workers cleared Southern Oregon University's Raider Stadium of its grass in preparation for new Astroturf.
The switch to synthetic turf will save more than 1 million gallons of water per year, said Mike Oxendine, SOU Grounds, Motor Pool and Equipment Pool supervisor.
The change is part of campus-wide water conservation efforts SOU is undertaking to cut water use during this year's drought — and become more environmentally friendly in the long-term.
"We're attempting to make a positive change," Oxendine said. "We've been making big improvements every year. We hope to get to the point where we're a model of sustainability for the community."
SOU's Landscape Services Department has committed to reducing water use by 30 percent this year.
Most water for SOU's landscaping and lawns comes from the Talent Irrigation District, which has told customers it will likely shut off water early this year because of drought.
SOU normally uses treated city of Ashland water for about 1 percent of its outdoor watering needs. It has now discontinued watering those areas, as shown by the dried grass around locations like the Rogue Valley Community Television building on campus.
At those sites, workers will water trees by hand with TID water to keep them alive, Oxendine said.
City water users will likely face curtailment measures this summer due to drastically low snowpack in the Ashland Watershed above town.
SOU's landscape maintenance crew consists of only four regular staff employees, including Oxendine, plus four student workers.
The crew of young men — most of whom are also working on degrees — can use their iPhones and iPads to control a high-tech irrigation system while out in the field. The system runs 500 irrigation zones with more than 10,000 sprinklers.
Last year when SOU installed the system, it was the largest Baseline Irrigation Solutions project in the state, Oxendine said.
"This is top-of-the-line, cutting-edge technology for irrigation," he said.
The system will not only cut water use, it will cut SOU's water bills.
Moisture sensors monitor the soil to guide irrigation and water is automatically shut off if a pipe breaks. In the past, if a pipe broke on a weekend, massive volumes of water could gush for days before anyone noticed, Oxendine said.
SOU also imported a high-tech water filter from Israel.
The filter cleans out grass, leaves and other debris from TID irrigation water so that it can flow unimpeded through the small nozzles of water-conserving irrigation systems.
"It's great. It's a massive upgrade. It's fun to be a part of this leading technology," said Irrigation Technician Tate Dunn, who added that he is learning about water conservation technology on the job.
At two new dormitories known as the North Campus Village, efficient sprinklers spray water drops and don't produce mist — which evaporates quickly without benefiting the drought-tolerant plants surrounding the buildings.
The dorms also have low-flow devices that reduce use of treated city water by 30 to 40 percent, according to SOU officials.
The university's newly planted Center for Sustainability organic farm along Walker Avenue will provide fresh produce through a campus farm stand and for SOU Campus Dining.
"We run everything on drip irrigation," said Farm Manager Larry McCain, who is also continuing his education at SOU. "It's the most efficient watering system you can do."
If he can find enough seed, McCain plans to use a "living mulch" of low-growing legumes beneath crops. The legumes will help increase the nitrogen content of the soil.
Crop rows are laid out perpendicularly to the slope to stop water run-off, he noted.
In another water conservation move, the Landscape Services Department put 94,500 cubic feet of bark mulch around campus trees and plants to retain moisture, reduce water use and suppress weeds.
"We've been gearing up and trying to get ready so our plants survive," Oxendine said.