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9 Ways Landscape Architects Can Conserve Water

Conserve-water

Effective and sustainable ways to conserve water in landscape architecture. As we all know, water is essential to life, whether for humans or for any other living things. Water is a natural resource necessary but perceived as a limited commodity today. Furthermore, urban development generally leads to soil sealing. This generates disturbances in the water cycle and often causes flooding following the runoff from impervious surfaces that increase water velocity and therefore causes a lot of damage. So, poor management of water can cause damage to water systems and the environment. Therefore, it is imperative to act for better water management to promote its evacuation and the recovery of its natural cycle.

Here are 9 Methods we Can Apply to Conserve Water:

1. Meadows and floodplains When we are in a situation where runoff water is abundant and that its volume or speed can cause damage; (for example in the case of a steep slope), it is interesting to create a grassed waterway called a swale, or allow water to flood a meadow. This allows the speed of the water to slow down and acts as a filter to help retain soil nutrients as well as pesticides transported by runoff. This last point is important because in most cases these waters are headed directly into a ditch or stream. Retaining the pesticides in land allows the water quality to be improved.

View of wildflower meadows in rural area in the municipality of Obermaiselstein located in the Allgäu region of the Bavarian Alps in southwest Germany. Credit: Nikater, licensed for Public Domain

View of wildflower meadows in rural area in the municipality of Obermaiselstein located in the Allgäu region of the Bavarian Alps in southwest Germany. Credit: Nikater, licensed for Public Domain

Don’t miss our book review Meadows by Design by John Greenlee. 2.  Terraces We think directly about the beautiful rice terraces in China that use this method better than anyone else. But this structure can also be used in our countries, although it is less impressive. It is used to reduce the speed of runoff in crop fields where the slope is long and steep. This also reduces soil erosion.
Rice Terraces. Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Rice Terraces. Credit: CC0 Public Domain

3. Hedges Hedges planted on the edge of fields or streams are not just decorative; even if it is one of the advantages they offer. In fact, they reduce the speed of the water and so reduce the damage related to flooding and mudslides. But these plantations are also used to stabilize banks when they are planted next to a stream. They also help to reduce water loss by evaporation, they retain soil moisture and as an added bonus, they maintain and increase biodiversity, act as habitat connectivity pathways, and reduce the effects of the wind.
Beech hedges on the Barwhillanty Estate. Credit: Ruth Madigan, CC 2.0

Beech hedges on the Barwhillanty Estate. Credit: Ruth Madigan, CC 2.0

4. Development of ditches Today, it often happens that the ditches are buried because they are considered as an open sewer and are dirty and smell bad. Thereby people forget our relationship with the water. It can be useful to create open ditches so that citizens may renew visual contact with the water and realize that we must improve our water management. To make them acceptable and to keep ditches open, we can create ornamental ditches which play a social role, but also an environmental role, because these planted ditches also increases biodiversity.
Example of ditch. Credit: https://www.vauban.de

Example of ditch. Credit: www.vauban.de

5.  Catchment basins Catchment basins allow the accumulation of runoff water for a certain period. This type of development is used to reduce the velocity of runoff which then slowly flows into the water course. These basins are also used to promote the sedimentation of the soil particles carried by these sources of water.
Catchment basin at the Schulz Park, St. Jerome, Canada. Credit: A. Rozières www.vsj.ca

Catchment basin at the Schulz Park, St. Jerome, Canada. Credit: A. Rozières www.vsj.ca

There are different types of basins. Firstly they are placed according to the terrain. The basin can simply be dug on flat ground or it can be built on a slope with berms. The basins can be simply fitted for their role in assisting in the evacuation of water and can be planted with grass. But it is also possible to grow crops in these ponds when the flood periods are short.
Catchment basin at the Schulz Park, St. Jerome, Canada. Credit:  Y. Lambert www.vsj.ca

Catchment basin at the Schulz Park, St. Jerome, Canada. Credit: Y. Lambert www.vsj.ca

It is possible to assign other functions as purely utilitarian! Also, it is possible to arrange ornamental retention basins that contribute to the development of biodiversity and have a playful and recreational aspect that encourages people to walk around. 6.  Preservation of peatlands and wetlands Peatlands are wetland areas because Sphagnum (Sphagnum sp.) has a significant capacity to conserve water, they are like sponges. This phenomenon contributes to maintain a humid and fresh microclimate which is useful for plant development. In addition, these plants filter water and purify it. In a similar way to retention ponds, peatlands, which are natural, help to maintain water for a certain period of time before returning them to the natural environment and thus help to mitigate floods and maintain a minimum flow in rivers during summer. It is therefore important to protect peatlands but also wetlands that help regulate the water. These environments are also often used by migratory birds guiding them during their course, and act as important sources of water for wildlife. Related Articles:

WATCH: What is the value of a peat bog? 7. Maintain forests Forests have beneficial effects in every way, whether for the conservation of water and soil or as a carbon reduction and atmospheric pollution measure. For these reasons, it is important to conserve forests. But today we also see a new phenomenon, that is urban forests. This is a positive alternative when forests do not exist or are not sufficient to meet the ecosystem services we need. WATCH: Benefits of Urban Forests Regarding the conservation of water, trees play a major role in regulating the water as they participate in the water cycle, allowing a percentage of the rain to reach the ground and going directly back into the earth’s natural systems. Also, a small percentage of the rain which falls on trees evaporates directly from leaves, integrating it back into the earth’s atmosphere. Further more, planting an urban forest can reduce ambient temperatures, mitigating the effects of the phenomenon of urban heat islands, caused by surface concrete and asphalt. 8. Permeable pavements To reduce the saturation of hydrological networks and water runoff, it is important to think about making landscapes with the greatest permeable surface as possible. Thus, we can act on parking lots, tram tracks, pathway surfaces… All these combined actions allow to greatly reduce soil sealing.

Permeable paver demonstration. Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 JJ Harrison

Permeable paver demonstration. Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0
JJ Harrison

Don’t miss our essential guides, including a special feature on permeable paving. 9.  Select plants suited to the climate and soil Despite a wide range of plants in the nursery, not all are necessarily adapted to our climate. You have to choose plants that are adapted to the climatic conditions in your area and soil present in your garden. Thus, opting for native plants you will get a more durable and less demanding garden. WATCH: Xeriscape is not a garden, it’s a system However, nurseries indicate that the succulent plants or gray foliage are more drought resistant. Among these plants, we can mention mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), lavender (Lavandula sp.) and thyme (Thymus sp.) or sedum (Sedum sp.) and fescue (Festuca sp.), stipa (Stipa sp.), miscanthus (Miscanthus sp.) and pennisetum (Pennisetum sp.). So water management in the territory is an important element to consider when designing a project as it acts on other elements such as the reduction of erosion, the increase of biodiversity, and it also improves the relationship that people have with water. Therefore, it is necessary to act for its preservation in our landscapes. Recommended Reading:

Article by Alexandra Wilmet. Return to Homepage

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