Natural Water Features

Tanner Springs Natural Water Feature   image: Boora Architects

Tanner Springs Natural Water Feature
image: Boora Architects

As the notion of “sustainable sites” becomes increasingly important, the Natural Water Feature can provide the rejuvenating and life-affirming elements of water, while maximizing a site’s sustainability factor. Borrowing design techniques from natural and constructed wetlands and the increasingly popular “natural swimming pool,” the Natural Water Feature offers a green alternative to the traditional, chlorinated, and resource consuming display.

So what exactly is a Natural Water Feature? While the definition is still being debated, there are three main aspects upon which everyone agrees:

First, the display will use a non-chemical water treatment system. The Natural Water Feature relies on a living ecosystem in lieu of adding chlorine and acid. Chemical pollution becomes a non-issue—nature does the work.

Second, the Natural Water Feature should use minimal mechanical gear and electricity. This means eliminating or downsizing the mechanical filter and its pump, the effect pump, and other equipment—which translates into using less energy.

Third, the display should use recaptured water where possible, and in general, minimize the use of potable water. Some localities demand this for any water feature.

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Net Zero Water & Landscape Architecture

Los Angeles panorama image: Gary Lai

Los Angeles panorama
image: Gary Lai

I just hosted an event where twenty-five people watched a video of a flushing toilet and gave it a standing ovation. Granted, I live near Hollywood in Los Angeles, but this was not a showing of some avant-garde cinema (today’s Hollywood cinema could never be confused with avant-garde; perhaps, if Captain America were flushing the toilet). This was a combined USGBC and Living Building Challenge meeting to figure out how to get to Net Zero Water in LA.

The toilet in question was a composting toilet that uses no water, but a highly evaporative alcohol lubricant to flush the waste into a digester unit in the basement. Gross? Maybe, but we Californians have to come to terms with the inevitable conclusion that our state’s multi-trillion dollar, 100 year-old water infrastructure system transporting Northern California snowpack to Southern California bathrooms will not be enough. California holds 10% of the country’s population, provides 40-60% of the nation’s fresh fruits and vegetables, and has a big enough industry and economy to be rated 8th in the world. California will only continue to get more populous, hungrier, and thirstier over time; the flushing composting toilet was not only grand entertainment for us but a hopeful sign that we will be able to solve our water resource problems by being smarter designers.

What does this have to do with landscape architecture, you may ask? Well, we landscape architects and related industries need to be smarter and more careful in the conservation of our water resources.

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Water Conservation at the Annual Meeting

Public-Private Partnerships & Water

image: Alexandra Hay

image: Alexandra Hay

Given the urgent need to address aging water infrastructure across the United States, public-private partnerships, or PPPs, offer a possible solution. The ongoing discussion of PPPs’ potential includes an overview of 2013’s PPP-related developments by Michael Deane, Executive Director of the National Association of Water Companies, for The Huffington Post and an article by Giulio Boccaletti, Managing Director of Global Water for The Nature Conservancy, in The Guardian that takes a look at financing solutions for natural infrastructure.

Earlier this year, ASLA’s Government Affairs Manager, Mark Cason, observed a roundtable discussion of PPPs focused on water supply and treatments. The roundtable, hosted by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, addressed the challenges municipalities face in operating, maintaining, and financing their water and waste water systems. Panelists also outlined the substantial federal and state investments needed to address all of the demands, especially as the original infrastructure reaches the end of its life cycle.

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How Green is Your Sport Field Grass?

Western Washington University Woman's Fastpitch Softball Field Improvements. Digital simulation by Rick Mullen, Presentation Art Studio image: Erik J. Sweet

Western Washington University Woman’s Fastpitch Softball Field Improvements. Digital simulation by Rick Mullen, Presentation Art Studio
image: Erik Sweet, SLA Landscape Architecture

Synthetic Surface Sport Fields for Water Conservation & Long-Term Carbon Footprint Reduction

Sustainability experts typically agree on two measures for high performance sport fields: total fresh water saved, and net reduction in carbon footprint with all factors considered over the life cycle of the sports field.

So, what are the water conservation features for synthetic surface sport fields, and what other factors determine how green your sport field grass is? Before outlining features and factors to consider, we’ll take a look at a project at Western Washington University that is an example of a high performance sports field design with synthetic surface fields that are truly greener, including high performance for water conservation.

“If the design and specification is done right, all-weather synthetic surface fields including adequate subsurface drainage will minimize runoff. This is especially important at our Western Washington University (WWU) campus in Bellingham, Washington in the Pacific Northwest,” says Linda Beckman, Vice President for Student Affairs at WWU. “Ideally, synthetic surface will be selected for high recycled content, as a low-VOC product for air quality concerns, and will be maintained properly. Upfront, we decided to fund proper maintenance and also decided it will be recycled when it nears the end of its life, and to select a consultant who understands the full picture of environmental performance from products and systems. Our Pacific Northwest strong environmental commitment is met by using the sport field surface system we approved—we did it right and we did it green.”

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Annual Meeting Highlights from Water Conservation

Boston's Public Garden image: Alexandra Hay

Boston’s Public Garden
image: Alexandra Hay

Flying home from 2013 ASLA Annual Meeting in Boston,  my flight back to Seattle encountered typical Midwest winter weather in the Great Lakes area, perhaps the only large region in the US without an existential threat to their fresh water supply. My hours traveling gave me time to reflect on the Annual Meeting’s over a dozen sessions related to water conservation. Three education sessions plus our Water Conservation PPN Meeting are featured below, all of which reflect how the water conservation focus at the 2012 Phoenix conference remained high on the national agenda at the Boston 2013 conference. Below, you’ll find my thoughts on a project in San Diego, biophilic design, plus discussion among a dozen  leading water conservation professionals.

Whether you attended the Annual Meeting or could not make the trip to Boston this year, I’m happy to share a few highlights. Each session title is a link, providing more information about the presenters or subject of that session, so please take a look!

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Investing in Natural Infrastructure

image: Alexandra Hay

image: Alexandra Hay

From meeting increasing demand with aging water infrastructure to planning for extreme weather events, the challenges of managing water wisely are growing ever more numerous and complex.

The World Resources Institute recently released a report, Natural Infrastructure: Investing in Forested Landscapes for Source Water Protection in the United States, on how forests, wetlands, and floodplains can play a central role in avoiding and alleviating water-related crises. Drawing on the expertise of more than 50 authors, the report describes in detail how currently underutilized natural infrastructure might be harnessed to improve water management practices, and the many opportunities there are for doing so. The case studies included range from forest-based efforts in Maine, Oregon, North Carolina, Colorado, and Washington to a stormwater control program on Staten Island, New York.

The report is intended to be “a call to action for water utility staff and land managers alike to bring natural infrastructure into focus in their institutions, with this guide as a foundation from which businesses and municipalities can innovate in the face of a growing water crisis.” By investing in natural infrastructure now, water managers can both reduce the costs of water management and help to ensure access to clean water for generations to come.

The full report can be read online here.


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