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Water Efficient Landscapes
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: As Water Prices Surge, Water Efficiency Gains MomentumPt. 2: Graywater and Water EfficiencyPt. 3: This PagePt. 4: Water Efficiency: What to Do First
Another possibility is to simply use rainwater as it falls as the only source of irrigation. Xeriscaping is the technical term for using plants that don’t require supplemental irrigation.
Xeriscaping is one water efficiency strategy that is often employed for existing buildings — especially in the Southwest. Experts suggest facility executives consider options other than the huge expanses of lawn. Little says she and her fellow Tucson, Ariz., water efficiency advocates have a saying: “No lawn just for looks.”
For many organizations, giving up the trophy lawn is a tough idea to get past. That lush, green lawn is part of the corporate image, or it adds to the perceived prestige of the college campus. Facility executives may have an uphill battle, but the key is convincing upper management that other types of landscaping can be just as attractive and will contribute to the organization’s environmental goals.
That’s how Patrick Okamura, facility manager for General Dynamics C4 Systems, made the case at his 1.6 million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“The corporate image had always been a fine, green lawn,” says Okamura. “As long as 30 years ago, we’d always had this lush lawn.”
But as the organization undertook an initiative to achieve a LEED for Existing Buildings certification, Okamura says he realized the landscape was an opportunity to significantly cut water use.
In a three-phase strategy, Okamura cut the 12-acre lawn first by 25 percent, then by 85 percent, and intends to finish transforming the entire lawn from grass to native plants by next spring.
“The front lawn had always been the sacred cow,” says Okamura. “But we went to management and asked them if we could convert the lawn to xeriscape. They were on board.”
The nature of a facility’s landscaping may not be first on the list of priorities at design meetings, but water efficiency experts say it should at least warrant a few discussions.
“In new construction, when the landscaping is designed, no one bothers costing out the amount of water that will be used for irrigation,” says Estes-Smargiassi. “Pay attention to how water will be used. You should look for opportunities other than the ‘five acres of lush grass.’”
Not every facility executive has the same support from upper management that Okamura did. Oftentimes, facility executives face an uphill battle when making the case for water efficiency projects. Making that case may mean thinking about water as more than just water.
Facility executives generally pay for their water use in three main areas — the actual cost of the water, sewer/water disposal costs and energy. That last cost may not be the first one that comes to mind when facility executives consider water efficiency projects, but if heated water is used in any significant volume in a facility, it takes a fair amount of energy to heat that water. More significantly in terms of raw kWh usage, however, is the energy required for the utility to treat and pump water.
“Water is heavy,” says Bennett. “Water utilities in most cities are one of the largest users of energy. So it’s not necessarily on your energy bill, but these utilities are using lots of energy.”
In California, about 19 percent of all electricity use and about 30 percent of natural gas use is directly related to water treatment and transport, according to the California Energy Commission. Also, according to the Alliance for Water Efficiency, 95 percent of the state’s energy efficiency goals could be met by water efficiency programs at 58 percent of the cost.
For these reason, there are a growing number of incentives for water efficiency, just as there are for energy efficiency. “Almost every urban area has rebates for both water and energy efficiency,” says Bennett. “Programs are popular in Western states, and many Eastern cities have programs in seemingly water rich areas to avoid having to build new infrastructure.”
If that sounds familiar, it’s almost the same reason energy efficiency programs grew and are growing in prominence.
“Water is becoming the new energy,” says Dickinson. “Think about water as a future energy issue.”