Water: Use It Wisely

Perhaps you have heard this national campaign slogan to conserve and prevent the unnecessary use and waste of one of our most precious natural resources.

Here in the desert, water is a very precious commodity, and as our summers seem longer and hotter, the demand for water is as great as it has ever been.

According to the USGS website, in 2005, the total estimated consumption of water within the United States was 410 billion gallons of water per day (Bgal/d). While that may seem like a lot -- and to me it does -- one should note that it is slightly greater than than the estimated 408 Bgal/d used in the year 2000.

As landscape architects, we are taught the importance of using water in the landscape and that water is an essential design element.

Water has so many pleasing qualities. The sound of falling water is quite soothing to the ears. The visual component of a pond or pool can be appealing, as well. Water can cool the temperature in the area surrounding it, and it can provide habitat for fish, waterfowl and plants.

But with most of the country suffering from one of the worst droughts in recent memory, how do we as designers manage the responsibility of using water in the landscape?

While I am not a proponent of an outright ban on the use of water as an aesthetic element in the landscape, I do feel that as designers we must use water responsibly.

Not only must we look at the use of ponds and water features, but also at our irrigation practices. Here in the desert, most plants are watered via drip irrigation. This is an effective method of irrigating plant material without overwatering or losing water to evaporation.

I can’t tell you how many times I have driven by a commercial property with turf grass between the parking lot and street and have seen pop-up sprinklers watering away in the middle of the afternoon at peak temperatures in the summer. This is very frustrating.

I understand that there are many compelling reasons for using water features in the landscape. I use water features in my designs, as well. In fact, I think people have a somewhat magical attraction to water.

Have you ever sat and watched as children, and even adults, walk by a fountain or pool in a public space? What is the first thing you see them do? They dip their hands in the water as if it is a natural instinct. Water is our lifeblood. Without it, we could not survive.

With the cost of water on the rise and the demand for water just as great as it has been in recent years, how do we, as landscape architects justify the use of water features in our designs?

More and more, I am seeing water features in public spaces not being used. Fountains have been shut off and ponds and lakes are drying up and are covered with algae.

If the water features in our designs are not going to be properly used and maintained, are we better off leaving them out of the design and utilizing the space with other programmatic elements?

Or, better yet, do we educate our clients on water-saving practices such as the use of timers and levelers to reduce operation and maintenance costs?

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that when I see a landscape that has been designed without a water feature or if I see a water feature not being used, I feel as if something is missing.

I’d like to hear your thoughts and ideas regarding the use of water features in the landscape. Please leave a comment below or send me an email and let me know your thoughts.

Boyd Coleman is a landscape architect in Phoenix, Arizona. He can be reached on Twitter at @CDGLA or email: bcoleman001@gmail.com.