With the ever-increasing pressures to decrease water use throughout California – as well as transition infrastructure to incorporate more sustainable practices – it may be of some value for agencies, specialists, and designers to gather to discuss how different fields of studies can work together to efficiently increase available water sources.
There has been recent discussion of utilizing desalination plants to create potable water from the ocean. However, the limitations of expense and energy consumption make this option unfeasible. But along the coastlines there are ecosystems such as the Southern Californian Coastal Salt Marsh, where particular vegetation thrive in the salt water and can filter salt out of the ocean pools. The Pickleweed (Salicornia virginia) sequesters salt from the water by its low-growing stems to the storage cells of the leaf tips, where once full, turns red and falls off. A significant specimen that can handle salt water conditions and filter it to fresh water, the Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) is also a stunning spectacle. The remarkable species is easily identified by its aboveground prop roots used to transport air to the tree’s submerged root system. These prop roots further serve to retain sediment that would be eroded by the tides, gradually building up soil around the plant. Through the process of evaporation water is absorbed through the canopy, and in turn, the root systems develops a vacuum system that sucks saltwater through the root cell membranes. Some species even visibly excrete the salt through the surface of the leaves.
The mangrove tree can be beneficial to a variety of marine life and mammals, as mangrove forests create habitats for ecosystems while also preserving coastlines. During intense storms, mangrove forests creates a buffer zone, breaking waves to prevent erosion and absorb the flood water. Similarly designers at Scape Studio envisioned their project Oyster-tecture as an exploration of ecological design integrating biomimicry to orchestrate a filtration processes using selectively chosen vegetation and animals – “biotic filtration processes of oysters mussels, and eelgrass” – as a means of addressing the realities of ocean levels similar to mangrove forests.
Designers, ecologists, and marine specialists can find many opportunities to create landscapes along the coast that not only capture and filter water in a sustainable manner, but also restore and preserve coastal habitats such as marshes and estuaries. Utilizing desalinating vegetation and strategic topographic design can create landscapes along the coast that provide ecological services as much as provide additional resources for freshwater.