Have you ever wondered how you can contribute to help save and conserve our water resources? There are a lot of articles and blogs that give water-saving tips, but this post makes it super practical, hands-on and easy to implement, so enjoy!
We’ve all heard the warnings, the radio ads begging us to use non-potable water to flush our toilets, see the electronic signboards posted over our national highways begging us to save water and updating us on the (rapidly decreasing and utterly shocking) water-levels in our country’s biggest dams.
With water becoming a scarce natural resource across our country, water conservation has become a driving design force in the landscape industry. There are many benefits, both for us and our society, that can be seen by adopting water-wise practices in residential and commercial landscapes. Water conservation not only preserves this precious resource but also helps prevent water pollution to our local water supplies. As a landscape architect, these principles are used in my designs to be mindful of our common goal: responsible stewardship of the land.
Water conservation can be defined as the practice of using and managing water and water sources efficiently to reduce unnecessary water usage and evaporation. With that in mind, there are many strategies that landscape architects and designers can adopt to further water conservation in their projects.
Conserving water is increasingly important these days. Not only is it beneficial for the environment, but it’s also useful for saving money in these challenging economic times. There are many simple, doable ways to conserve water at home, from not letting the water run while brushing your teeth and taking shorter showers to wait until you have a full load of clothes before running the washing machine.
Why Do We Need To Save Water?
97.5% of the world’s water is locked in seas and oceans, too salty for human use. And most of the remaining 2.5% is in the ice caps.
So we humans depend on the tiny bit available as freshwater – an essential natural resource for life.
But we don’t just use water for drinking. We wash in it, clean with it, and use it to produce everything from clothing to food. Crop production – including feed for livestock and biofuels – is putting a great strain on freshwater supplies.
In addition to saving money on your utility bill, water conservation helps prevent water pollution in nearby lakes, rivers, and local watersheds. Conserving water also prevents greenhouse gas emissions associated with treating and distributing water.
Conserving water can also extend the life of your septic system by reducing soil saturation and reducing pollution due to leaks. Overloading municipal sewer systems can also cause untreated sewage to flow to lakes and rivers. The smaller the amount of water flowing through these systems, the lower the likelihood of pollution. In some communities, costly sewage system expansion has been avoided by community-wide household water conservation.
Design Tips For Water Conservation
Limit turf area
Since turf areas are one of the biggest culprits in the water wars, reducing those areas will improve conservation significantly. Many homeowners still demand large turf areas, so education should be the first goal in communicating with those customers. Designers should also try to incorporate turf only in areas where dogs and kids will need it—plan to naturalise the rest of your landscape and let these less demanding landscapes dominate your design. If you must use turf, choose wisely. Fescue turf tends to use an enormous amount of water to keep it lush and green as opposed to other turfgrass varieties. If your customer cannot live without turf, then move to a turf variety that requires less water such as Bermuda or zoysia.
Amend soils generously with rich organic material when planting. Organic soil amendments can include peat moss, wood chips, grass clippings, straw or manure. There are commercial soil amendment products that encourage water retention. These amendments will allow a broader root system on the plants. Better soils allow more natural aeration, drainage and natural water holding capacity of the soil. Amendments also encourage the water’s ability to be infiltrated into the ground and prevent runoff. For the designer, adding a specification detailing your suggested soil mix to your plans would be helpful for landscapers to follow when implementing your designs.
Mulch all planting beds with a water-retaining mulch
Mulch forms a protective layer between the plant’s roots and the air, encouraging water retention. Most forms of mulch such as shredded hardwood or pine needles retain moisture at the root system of the plants. This is necessary not only for the plant’s health but also to keep water from evaporating into the atmosphere. For hot and dry climates, avoid rock or mulch that retains or radiates heat. This type of bed covering can not only burn the plants in summer but will also create a hot and dry microclimate in the area.
Introduce a rain garden in runoff areas
In a low spot of a design area, rain gardens can be a great solution to capturing and cleaning groundwater before infiltration. While dry most of the time, rain gardens only tend to hold water after a rainfall. Designers can utilise native shrubs, perennials and flowers in these areas to create a beautiful and functional landscape bed.
Use other methods to capture water.
Many practices utilise the ability to capture runoff or “grey water” to be used and replaced into the landscape. Some suggested methods are rain barrels, cisterns and even using porous paving. These methods will capture runoff water and, with the use of a pump, can allow that water to be used for irrigation purposes.
Use native and drought-resistant plants in the landscape
Native plants and other drought-tolerant species will naturally use less water than their counterparts. Many drought-tolerant plants are staples at local nurseries. Designers can also check with their local cooperative extension office for lists of drought-tolerant plants in their areas.
Group plants according to their water needs
Designers can divide their plant material choices into water-use zones, grouping each according to their water needs. This grouping will assist in the most efficient watering schedule for your customers. Avoid the use of high water requiring plant materials. Additionally, designers can add watering specifications to their plans for their customers to follow.
Irrigate and water responsibly
Traditional irrigation practices, which use spray heads to water plant material from overhead, are an inefficient method of watering, especially in bed areas. Spray irrigation also causes evaporation of water before it even reaches the plant material in areas where natural rainfall is not enough for good plant health, drip irrigation waters plants directly at the root. Unlike spray heads, which encourage evaporation, drip irrigation is an efficient and water-wise way to irrigate. Also, ensure that hoses have shut off nozzles. This will prevent leaks and unnecessary water use.
Encourage your customers to cover their pools to prevent water evaporation. Swimming pools tend to lose an inch or more of water each week due to evaporation. Having your customers cover their pools can save them money and pool water each season.
Pressure wash less
When your crew is cleaning up at a job site, have them use a broom to loosen dirt and debris. Once that is complete, only use the pressure washer for a short time to do the final cleaning.
Water Conservation in the Home
Check all faucets, toilets and showerheads for leaks.
You’ll be surprised at the amount of water that can be wasted from even a small leak. Consult a plumber to repair leaks, both large and small.
Insulate your water pipes.
It’s easy and inexpensive to insulate your water pipes with pre-slit foam pipe insulation. You’ll get hot water faster and avoid wasting water while it heats up.
Install a low-flow showerhead.
Low-flow showerheads are a great way to save water and money. This type of showerhead, which is relatively inexpensive, works by delivering fewer gallons per minute (GPM) of water than conventional showerheads. Low-flow showerheads deliver about 1.6 GPM, compared to about five GPM of traditional heads.
Install a water-saving toilet.
Water-saving toilets use 1-2 gallons per flush instead of 3-5 gallons. Replacing a 5-gallon-per-flush toilet with an ultra-low-volume (ULV) 1.5-gallon-flush model represents a 70% water savings and will cut indoor water consumption by about 30%.
Wash your car the water-efficient way.
Save up to 150 gallons of water every time you wash your car simply by turning the hose off between rinses.
Install a low-flow faucet aerator.
Low-flow faucet aerators are very inexpensive, only about $10. They work by mixing air into the water stream and can reduce your home’s water consumption by 50%.
Use the dishwasher only when it’s full.
One dishwasher cycle uses a tremendous amount of water, so make an extra effort to fill it up before you press start.
Turn off the faucet while washing dishes.
When you are washing dishes, scrub each item (with the faucet off) and set it aside. When all the dishes have been scrubbed, turn on the water to rinse off the dirt and soap. This uses a lot less water than soaping and scrubbing dishes while the faucet is running.
Turn the faucet off while you brush your teeth!
Can you imagine if one person per household throughout the US started keeping to this habit? The water savings would be tremendous. As mentioned above, this is one of the easiest ways to save water, and it is simple to make it into a habit.
Be water conscious!
Being water conscious in general while at home and away is an effective way to save water. Start noticing your trends and habits regarding water usage and change any patterns that are wasteful.
Extending Your Conservation Measures
Insulate Your Water Pipes
It’s easy and inexpensive to insulate your water pipes with pre-slit foam pipe insulation. You’ll get hot water faster plus avoid wasting water while it heats up.
Recycle Your Water Where You Can
Collect the cold water you run before it’s hot enough to shower and use it to water plants or flush the toilet (known as a bucket flush). Rinse water from dishes and food preparation can be collected and used to soak other dishes.
Eat Less Water-Intensive Foods
Our diets account for roughly half of all the water we use. All food has a water footprint, but some are much larger than others. Eating less beef, one of the most water-intensive foods, is a smart place to start. Shifting away from animal products to a plant-based diet can shrink your water footprint significantly.
Consumer products are an often-overlooked source of water use, accounting for up to a third of most people’s water footprint. Buying less of everything—from clothing to electronics to household goods—can dramatically decrease your water footprint.
Water Conservation in the Yard and Garden: Outside Your Home
Don’t Run the Hose While Washing Your Car.
Clean the car using a pail of soapy water. Use the hose only for rinsing; this simple practise can save as much as 100 gallons when washing a car. Use a spray nozzle when rinsing for more efficient use of water. Better yet, use a waterless car washing system; there are several brands, such as Eco Touch, which are now on the market.
Use a Broom, Not a Hose, to Clean Driveways and Sidewalks
Blasting leaves or stains off your walkways with water is one way to remove them, but brushing with a broom to first loosen the dirt and grime will decrease your water use and save you time in the long run.
Cover Swimming Pools to Reduce Evaporation
Swimming pools can lose an inch or more of water each week to evaporation. Temperature, humidity, wind, and the way the pool is situated can all affect how quickly water evaporates. To save thousands of gallons of pool water each season, get a cover for your pool.
Check for Leaks in Pipes, Hoses, Faucets and Couplings
Leaks outside the house may not seem as bad since they’re not as visible. But they can be just as wasteful as leaks indoors. Check frequently to keep them drip-free. Use hose washers at spigots and hose connections to eliminate leaks.
Reuse Wastewater Where Possible
“Greywater” is the water draining from your house’s sinks, bathtubs, and laundry machine, which can be used to water plants (as opposed to “black water” from toilets, which needs to be treated).
You can harvest greywater in a small way with a bucket in your kitchen or shower, or install a greywater system, which reroutes water from your drains to your landscape. However, not yet legal everywhere, codes are changing to allow more people to take advantage of this source of otherwise wasted water. The simplest systems harvest only water from the washing machine, which can add up to thousands of gallons per year. If you use greywater in your landscape, be sure to use only eco-friendly and plant-based soaps and cleaners in your home, so you’re not dousing your plants with industrial chemicals.
Top Reasons To Conserve Water:
- Water is essential to all life. Not only does it keep us and the animals and plants around us alive, but it also provides specialist habitats for wildlife.
- Conserving water can save you money – the less water you use, the less your water company may charge you.
- Conserving water saves energy. Energy is needed to filter, heat and pump water to your home, so reducing your water use also reduces your carbon footprint.
- Waiting for the tap to run cold can waste 10 litres of tap water a day!
Save water in the kitchen:
- Put a large bottle of tap water in the fridge to save waiting for the tap to run cold. Waiting for the tap to run cold can waste 10 litres of water a day!
- Only fill the kettle with the amount of water needed.
- Put lids on saucepans to reduce the amount of water lost during heating.
- Put your dishwasher and washing machine on with full loads and on an eco-setting wherever possible.
- Use a washing-up bowl in your sink to reduce the volume of water you use to fill the area.
Save water in the bathroom:
- Turn the tap off while brushing your teeth. A running tap can waste more than 6 litres of water a minute!
- Purchase a water-efficient toilet (one with a dual flush) or go by the old saying ‘if it’s yellow let it mellow if it’s brown flush it down!’
- Get a cistern displacement device to save up to 5,000 litres of water every year. They are free from most water companies.
- Shower instead of bathe. An average bath uses around 80 litres of water, but a shower typically uses between 6 and 45 litres.
- Install water-efficient taps and showers to minimise heating water – this will save you money on your water and energy bills, as well as decreasing your carbon footprint.
- Fix a dripping tap. A dripping tap can waste 15 litres of water a day!
Save water in the garden:
- Sprinklers can use as much as 1,000 litres of water an hour! In truth, it’s okay for the lawn to go brown, it will recover the next time it rains.
- Use a water butt to catch large amounts of rainwater and use this to water your plants, clean your car and wash your windows.
- Use mulch and bark in your garden; it will help to reduce evaporation by up to 75%.
- Plant drought-resistant plants that don’t require as much watering.
What Else Can You Do To Save Water?
When running your dishwasher or washing machine, make sure you fully load each cycle. Running full cycles helps conserve water because these appliances will fill to a certain level, and having more dishes or clothes reduces the amount of water needed for each cycle. This ensures that you get the most energy-saving and water-saving use from each run of your appliances. Here’s a video on how to save water by packing your dishwasher efficiently:
One of the best water conservation tips out there, with possibly the largest impact, is a simple one: Take showers instead of baths. Baths may be relaxing and enjoyable, but it takes more than 78 gallons of water to fill a tub. Showers are a more water-efficient way to bathe.
Landscape architects and designers that utilise these practices will find that their designs are more responsive to the environment and save their customers time and money in the long run. Along with following more accountable design practices, their landscape creations will still be beautiful, functional and enjoyable to the customer.