Design, Build and Maintain for Drought

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a Drought State of Emergency on Friday January 17, 2014.  We have all known this condition was building but have been slow to react.  This declaration is critically important in that it gives us all strong impetus to think carefully about water use in the landscape.  One of the first things California residents are expected to do under this 20 percent voluntary water reduction regime is to limit outdoor water use.

Here are some basic tips and guidelines to reduce outdoor water usage through thoughtful landscape design, construction and maintenance.

Irrigation/Watering Audit

The first and easiest thing to do in an existing residential or commercial landscape is an irrigation audit.  Is the system running at maximum efficiency?   What could be done to reduce leaks, runoff, or other water waste?  Next, how could the system be retrofit to more effectively and efficiently deliver water to the plants that most need supplemental water?  If you are watering by hand, would a simple irrigation system decrease the amount of water you are using?  

Planting Audit

Similar to the irrigation audit, now is an appropriate time to take a hard look at your ornamental plants and decide which is worthy of precious potable water.  Such an audit can take many forms but in simplest terms are there plants that currently show stress from lack of seasonal rainfall?  Do you have mature plants that require regular watering under non-drought conditions in order to look there best?  If so, it is an appropriate time to consider replacing them before investing considerably more water.  Regrouping plants to aid in in maximizing irrigation efficiency is also a worthy consideration.

Chief among your considerations in a time of drought is the appropriateness of turf lawn.  Do you have a lawn that you want to preserve or want a new lawn?  Both of these choices should be considered carefully.  If the lawn is not or will not be actively used frequently for recreation and enjoyment, it should be removed now and replaced with a more appropriate landscape.  If your lawn is important to your family’s happiness there are many irrigation and soil improvement that can be made to reduce the water required to keep the grass healthy.  Aeration and addition of water retaining compost can help an existing lawn stay healthy with less water.  New lawns should be sized based on the use they will receive and not larger.  The most efficient way to irrigate a new lawn is with a subsurface mat product like the Hunter Eco-Mat.  These systems deliver the water directly to the turf roots with no overspray or evaporative loss.

Soil Water Retention Enhancement and Mulching

The addition of compost and mulch to any planting bed can substantially improve water retention.  There are many excellent guides on effective mulching to control weed growth and conserve water.  Here is a link to the Bay Friendly Landscape guide:

Sustainable Systems – Rain Water Harvesting, Gray Water and More

The next level of investment in responding to drought and building a sustainable landscape is to enhance your on-site water storage and reuse.  

While rainfall is clearly limited during a drought, rainwater catchment enables you to capture the rain that does fall in above or below ground cisterns and to store it for irrigation and emergency purposes.  The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has a good summary of rain water harvesting and the required permitting to implement in a residential setting.

Gray water systems can sometimes be installed in a residential setting with minimal retrofit.  In other conditions it is more appropriate to wait until a major remodel to reconfigure your plumbing.  Laundry-to-landscape and bathtub-to-landscape are the most straightforward systems to build and retrofit.  Again, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has good basic information on what is involved.

With increased pressure on our water delivery and purification systems, there will only be more innovative technologies to better take advantage of the water we do have.  

This summary topics only scratch the surface of what can be done to reduce outdoor water use.  Ian Moore Design is a Bay Friendly Professional and can assist you with all of these strategies so please contact us for an irrigation or planting audit, soil water retention enhancement and mulching project.  We also carefully consider water use and opportunities for sustainable systems in every design and construction project. 

We’ll write more about this topic over the course of 2014 as California’s drought condition evolves.  Thanks for reading and don’t hesitate to act now to conserve water – 20% voluntary!





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