Posts tagged water

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!

What if you could produce clean drinking water just by running your air conditioner?

This experiment was conducted this past summer to determine how much water could potentially be captured from a home’s rooftop package air conditioning unit during the hottest days of the year. Conducted in July 2017 during a particularly sweltering Los Angeles week, Eau De Maison documents the process of constructing the water capture system, implementing the experiment, and analyzing the results of the follow-up water quality testing.

Thanks to Wallace Laboratories for their assistance. Music by Protman. Produced for AHBE LAB.

Photo: Topographic Map by TBWA Istanbul.

Photo: Topographic Map by TBWA Istanbul.

Several years ago my family decided that sustainability should begin with us. Thus we started reducing our household water, waste, and energy consumption. The transformation was not immediate despite our commitment. Although the people who lived around us seemed equally concerned about environmental issues, I remember nervously awaiting my neighbors’ reactions when we removed our front lawn. In the few years since, my drought tolerant front garden is among several in my area. The traditional lawn, however, is still prevalent in the neighborhood; so we can do much more as a community.

On April 1st, Governor Brown issued an executive order mandating a 25% reduction, from 2013 levels, in California’s water consumption. A frenzy of news reports and opinions followed the Governor’s announcement, accompanied by many eye-opening images showing the record lows of our lake and snowpack levels, the depletion of the Central Valley aquifer, and so much more.

Living a sustainable life sustainably is a practice that I am committed to personally and professionally. Our state’s crisis demands more rigorous conservation practices, even if it is disruptive to the way we live. In our profession of landscape architecture, water management and water distribution considerations will have greater significance in the design of spaces.

But, not everyone shares this point of view.

In the days since the Governor’s announcement, I have been surprised by people’s attitude of temporary compliance. Do people truly believe that our diminishing water supply will magically go away if the restrictions end? “Water fairies” will apparently save us.

Studies on human behavior reveal the complexity of a change in social practices. One such study, called the Consensus Project, examines sustainable consumption through multiple factors. Its findings indicate that people develop, over time, perceptions of what is “normal” for their daily routines and physical comfort and these perceptions shape behaviors. A new definition of “normal” must be reached for a change in social practice to occur. The situation we now face seems to be a defining moment for social transformation.

March 22nd was World Water Day, an annual celebration designated in 1992 by the United Nations General Assembly in celebration and awareness of water around the globe. My social media page flickered as facts and opinions about water were posted and shared. I read, for what seemed like hours, about water consumption, water poverty, drought and flood conditions, environmental justice and so much more, filling my brain with information and drawing connections to my own behavior as a concerned citizen of this planet. World Water Day raised public awareness about global water issues.

So now what? Awareness is good as long as it is well informed and results in farsighted strategies. As designers of gardens and public spaces, our work has relevance from a water perspective.

  • How do we focus our work for the challenges ahead?
  • What questions should we ask when beginning our design process?
  • Who do we call upon for input so that our inquiries remain well informed and at the edge?

Our expertise is discovering and revealing the essence of place. We are designers, not scientists. We cannot, after all, create water out of air. Or can we? Now that is a fun idea to explore for the landscape!

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.