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Airport Embraces True Nature to Save Millions on Water


By Naomi Millán Grounds Management
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) in Arizona has embraced its Sonoran Desert location, removing nearly 11 acres of turf grass in favor of native landscaping. The move is expected to save the airport $400,000 in labor and 5.375 million gallons of water per year, according to a release from the airport.

The formerly grassy areas on the airport grounds are now populated with 435 low-water-use trees, 75 saguaros, 275 large cacti of assorted species, and 2,900 accent plants and shrubs. Additional interest was added through the use of 1.7 miles of gabions. Gabions are wire baskets filled with rocks, and are usually used to control erosion. At the airport they've been used to create large swirl designs that evoke the wingtip vortex jets create.

The xeriscaping project is part of the airport's sustainability management plan. The plan’s water use reduction goals include a 10 percent reduction by 2020 over 2015 water consumption levels.  PHX used almost 335 million gallons of water in fiscal year 2014/2015. Other water use reduction strategies at the airport have included performing a water audit, installing low-flow restroof fixtures, and upgrading irrigation controls. In addition, the airport implemented new water treatment technology for its cooling towers, with an anticipated savings of 10 million gallons of water a year. 

Naomi Millán is senior editor of Building Operating Management.  

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