Drought keeps university groundskeepers busy

“Just trying to keep them alive,” said grounds keeper Doug Karaffa as he waters hanging flower baskets on the Esplande on July 17. In the midst of a lack of rain that northeast Ohio has been receiving, Karaffa said he goes through 800-1000 gallons of water a day watering plants and flowers across campus. “Never had a drought this bad,” Karaffa said. Photo by Matt Hafley.

Amanda Crumm

A lack of rain and extreme, hot weather leaves northeast Ohio in a state of moderate drought, and Kent State’s University Facilities Management is forced to increase its water usage to maintain landscaping, said grounds manager Heather White.

“This weather is really stressing things out, and every single day we will be watering,” White said. “Even on the weekends and holidays, people have been scheduled to come in and water.”

Although more water is being used to keep the university’s grounds, Kent State’s water bill remains lower than the previous year.

Various energy reduction projects have cut back on the university’s water usage, such as low-flow shower heads and low-flush toilets, said Frank Renovich, assistant director of energy.

The Kent State Grounds crews are responsible for maintaining over 950 acres of university land. Two hundred of those acres are grass, and, when the grass is growing normally, up to six workers are needed every day to mow the area, White said.

After recent months of intense heat and very little rain, most of the mowing has been cutting down weeds and has only required one or two workers a week.

White said it can take up to eight hours to water the grounds due to the lack of rain.

Each year, the grounds crews plant new trees and approximately 7,000 annual flowers, which need to be watered. Also maintained are 60 hanging baskets and 40 to 50 large flowerpots distributed throughout campus.

In addition, the grounds crews have attached self-watering green bags to existing trees on campus to further assist with irrigation.

White noted several shrubs and trees have died because of the drought.

“A drought like this can compound issues that have been in a tree for a while,” White said. “So if a tree is on the outs, this sort of weather may just push it over the edge.”

White said she foresees an increase in tree fatality if the weather does not improve.

“We will continue to spend our resources and spend more to water as we need to,” White said.

Contact Amanda Crumm at [email protected].