Search results for drought

Photo: Linda Daley

Photo: Linda Daley

I recently attended an event held at the residence of Los Angeles architect Daniel Monti. The house was originally designed for the architect’s parents who required saving and protecting a large Italian Stone Pine tree located at the back of the property. I was struck immediately by the many vantages of the outdoor garden and the sunlight filling the rooms through the skylights and walls of glass.

Upon entering the home, my eye was drawn to the far end where the lone pine tree stood. It served as a feature in the garden while providing shade for outdoor dining and seating.

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As I moved further indoors, I noticed the tree above me, its branches of green pendulous needles arched over the house and framed by the skylights. This single tree embodied a forest. I felt its presence everywhere during a tour of the home; it seemed inseparable from the architecture.

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Pinus pinea, commonly called Italian Stone or Umbrella Pine, is native to the northern Mediterranean coastal region (southern Europe to Turkey and Lebanon). It was first introduced to California during the Spanish Mission period and grows well along the California coast. This drought-tolerant evergreen tree gets big, 40-60 feet over time (sometimes more), which means you would expect to find one in a large open space setting rather than a standard-sized residential garden. It develops a broad umbrella-shaped canopy, which flattens with age, and its foliage is comprised of 5-8” long green needles in bundles of two. The trunk of a mature tree is noted for having reddish-brown deeply-fissured bark.

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Photo: Linda Daley

Photo: Linda Daley

Pinus pinea is valued for its nutritious edible nuts. Several pine species produce edible nuts and their use as a food source has been found in the histories of many cultures throughout the world, including California indigenous tribes. Today, pine nuts are considered a delicacy, with prices to match. The pine nuts from the Pinus pinea are valued as the highest quality of all species based on contemporary preferences for taste, texture and size. They are the ones we find in our grocery stores.

April is officially World Landscape Architecture Month. All month AHBE LAB will be exploring and celebrating the many facets of our profession, specifically the topics, ideas, and themes which influence our work as landscape architects, both locally and globally.

Photo: Calvin Abe/AHBE Landscape Architects

Photo: Calvin Abe/AHBE Landscape Architects

This photograph captured while flying over Lake Casitas, a man-made lake located about 80 mile north of Los Angeles, illustrates an interesting landscape pattern formed by the ongoing California drought. As the water level drops in the lake – at its max Lake Casitas offers a capacity of 254,000 acre ft. – we begin to see how vegetation is associated through its topography. The varying layers of vegetation is due to the mositure content of the soil, topographic elevations, and the physical soil composition. This demonstrates how nature builds an ecology that is interdependent on multiple levels.

 

Image: prepared by Gary Lai for his presentation at the Net Zero Conference.

Water conservation is an ongoing topic of discussion and exploration here at AHBE. From simple water-saving tips to broader statewide drought-related issues, our staff and AHBE Lab contributors have advocated for smart water habits and policies.

Net Zero Water is the next step for water conservation supporters and serves as a concept and framework for water self-sufficiency. Simply put, Net Zero Water practices could help us achieve independence from the water grid and get all the water we use from nature and treated greywater.

In Southern California, achieving Net Zero Water is very difficult unless you have a huge parcel of land with a tiny house. A building-by-building solution is impractical. A household would have to implement the equivalent of a wastewater treatment plant in its garage, which is not economical for most people. Water independence through Net Zero Water strategies is possible for Californians if we think about them in terms of a collective achievement at the neighborhood, city, or county level.

I have become fascinated with the thousands of man-made lakes we built in our state in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Although they are lovely private and public amenities, these lakes were being supplied by millions of gallons of expensive imported water from the Owens Valley and Northern Sierra Nevada. At one point, the make-up water from private man-made lakes ranked number one for water usage in our state. Consider the impact on our water supply if the lakes were taken off the grid and used instead to supply treated drinking water to a whole community or eco-district.

Graphic by Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Works for Magic Johnson Park Phase 1A project.

I am currently working on a project in the South Los Angeles area. The project calls for improvements to an existing park called Earvin “Magic” Johnson Park which serves LA’s Willowbrook community. Among the new and improved park amenities, we are taking the 8-acre south lake off its current domestic water source and replacing it with treated recycled stormwater. We will then use the lake water to irrigate the remaining 120 acres of the park. Consider the following:  how much more effort would it really take for the next step toward Net Zero Water at an eco-district scale? The recycled irrigation water we are generating is almost at drinking water quality now. What if we treat the lake water for drinking quality and use it to supply the neighborhood?

California’s population is projected to grow to 50-60 million by 2050 and, according to the most recent climate models coming out of Lawrence Livermore Labs, the state will have 10-15% less water. We must explore options that will allow us to live, grow, and prosper with these challenges.

If you are interested in learning more about Net Zero Water, please join me at the 2018 Net Zero Conference on September 13. I have more to share on this subject and I look forward to meeting you at the conference.

Rendering by AHBE Landscape Architects for Magic Johnson Park Phase 1A project.

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Here we go again. It looks like we’re headed for another dry year in Southern California. Two years after the Governor’s grand announcement that the worst drought in 1,200 years was behind us, the total rain for this year stands at just under 5-inches. Our “normal” rainfall for this time of year is supposed to be about 14-inches.

The Northern California snow pack is doing better however, with most of the NorCal counties reporting in at about 70% of normal. This shows that while we won’t have a drought on the order of magnitude of 2015, we will not have enough to meet all our needs this year. We will have to depend on our dwindling local storage supplies and imported water from the California Water Project to make up the difference.

How can you make a difference? Conserve water.

During the “Millennial” drought of 2010 to 2015, my wife and I experimented with different conservation methods, noting how much we could decrease our water usage vs. how arduous the strategy. The average California household uses about 175 gallons of water a day. We were able to get our daily water usage down to 90 gallons! Here’s how we did it, from easiest to most difficult below:

Sweat the small stuff: Small habits add up. Don’t use a hose to clean your driveway and patios. Fill a sink of water to shave or wash the dishes. Turn off the water when you soap your hands and when you brush your teeth. Only turn on the washer or dish washer if they are full. Put a spray nozzle on your hose. These basics won’t cost any money, but saved us about 15% off our water bill.

Buy low-flow appliances: If you can, replacing your toilet, washer and/or dish washer will be the easiest thing to do to conserve without any changes in your lifestyle. Having moved into a new apartment with all new water efficient appliances, I can vouch there is no compromise to cleanliness.

Buy a low flow shower head: In most California households, showers are a big water user. If you have an old shower head, buy a new low-flow one. I switched the head in our old house from a 3 GPM (gallons per minute) to a 1.5 GPM head and didn’t notice any compromise in the shower experience. They now even make heads rated for as low as 1.25 GPM.

Take shorter showers: On average, people take a 13-minute shower. Just cutting a 2-3 minutes off the average time can result in a noticeable decrease in a water bill. If you install a small shut-off valve on your shower head (some heads come with this feature), you can turn off the water briefly when you soap and not compromise the water temperature. My wife and I were able to save a whopping 40% off our water bill using this technique.

Mulch your yard: Many cities let you pick up free mulch from your neighborhood parks. If you mulch your planting beds, your irrigation will be more efficient, and you will need to water the garden less.

Save warm-up shower water for special plants: Beyond the $1.25 for a 5-gallon bucket from Home Depot, this strategy does not require any additional purchases, but it will require some effort. Gathering unused shower warm-up water bucket by bucket is labor intensive, but we were able to keep our favorite weeping peach trees alive during the last drought by not allowing this daily use go to waste.

Get rid of your lawn: The reduction of turf has been the primary goal for Southern California water agencies and cities. The Metropolitan Water District (MWD) just allocated $50 million dollars a year for a new program to motivate residential clients to take out their lawns and replace them with drought tolerant planting. Lawn grasses use roughly 1 million gallons per year per acre in Southern California, as opposed to 300,000 gallons per year per acre for drought tolerant planting.

Get a professional to help you program and operate your irrigation controller: The EPA estimates 50% of all water wasted in the United States is due to improperly adjusted irrigation systems. “Smart” irrigation controllers are complex and require plant and soil knowledge to setup; the average landscape maintenance person may not have those skills. Hiring a reputable maintenance company to do the initial setup of a controller, explain its features and review maintenance will improve water efficiency in the long run. This item will require the most knowledge, effort, and money to implement, but will save the most amount of water.

On a related note, AHBE Lab has aback catalog of numerous posts describing all aspects of drought worth revisiting. Happy water savings!

The orthogonal layout of plants showcases their individual beauty accompanied by adjoining reflecting basins designed to show the water as a still reflecting pool. The resulting soft waterfall sound is a soothing, meditative accompaniment to the view. All photos: Amanda Flores

As the weather begins to warm up (somewhat) across SoCal, I’ve begun taking note of the numerous outdoor destinations on my “to visit” list. While winter’s on and off rainy, foggy, icy weather is welcome, it’s California’s warmer and sunnier summer days I most long for – weather ideal for appreciating the beauty of our state’s landscape, best enjoyed with a hat on and an ice-cold pink lemonade in hand.

One particular place to appreciate the many varieties of resilient Californian plants native to the desert landscape resides nearby in Riverside County’s Rancho Mirage. I visited Sunnylands Center and Gardens for the first time two years ago and I still remember being awestruck by the artful arrangements of drought-tolerant landscape across the 9 acres of desert gardens. With over 53,000 drought tolerant specimens and over 50 plant species on display as living sculptures, Sunnylands is an unforgettable experience for anyone working within the landscape architecture profession.

Some examples of plants with different forms and textures, displaying the variety of plants preadapted to thrive in arid desert climates with ease across Southern California.

Walking through Sunnylands is like walking through a museum of sorts, or like meandering through a live 3D painting populated with fauna preadapted to thrive amongst arid plants of the desert.

While Sunnylands also features a lawn, its size is dwarfed in comparison to the rest of the grounds, serving as a functional platform for viewing the sculptural, artfully designed arid landscape in all directions.

Amongst Sunnyland’s layout of desert plants I find great inspiration in observing the variety of forms, textures, and colors on display. Plants appropriate for arid climates are often described as dry, dull, boring, or even ugly by a public used to equating stretches of lawns as the garden standard of beauty (thankfully this viewpoint is rapidly changing). The Sunnylands Center and Gardens stands as an inspiring counterpoint to the misinformed and outdated preference for lawn, showcasing the inherent beauty of a resilient landscape artfully arranged.

Which summer destinations are you looking forward to visiting this year?