The Built Environment
Being water smart in design involves a holistic approach. It starts inside with conservation and efficient use, but what is often overlooked is the affect our built environment has on the water outside. Water is cyclic, and we need to keep that in mind because by placing impermeable structures over the ground we are interrupting that cycle and potentially reducing our ability to access clean water. Here we will take a look at what we can do to help ensure we have access to clean water for generations to come.
The first priority should always be to conserve resources. Eliminating unnecessary use and increasing the efficiency of the water we are using will reduce consumption at the supply source. Low flow fixtures are generally the standard here, but less conventional methods like alternative water sources, greywater recycling, and alternative flush systems can help to save significant amounts of potable water from being flushed down the drain. Landscaping also plays a major role in water consumption. The types of plants we select, the medium in which they are planted, where we plant them, and our method of watering can all vastly impact our overall rate of consumption. With care and attention in the design stage we can achieve beautiful, low maintenance yards that save on resources and costs.
A lot of the water we use in our homes doesn't actually need to be clean drinking water. Taking advantage of alternate sources of water can help to mitigate our use of potable water while still getting the job done. Greywater recycling systems can collect water from your bathroom sink, bath, and shower drains and treat it for reuse in flushing toilets or irrigation systems. Similarly, rain water can be collected, treated, and put to use in situations where potable water isn't necessary. We have trained ourselves to just turn on the tap when we need water for anything, but based on the current state of water accessibility in our region it might be time to start looking in another direction.
Landscaping will usually occupy the majority of land on a property. Yet in most cases the design and planning of these areas begins and ends with the aesthetic. Thoughtful design and planning involving Xeriscaping (not to be confused with Zeroscaping) and appropriate irrigation systems can help to significantly reduce water consumption while maintaining beautiful, healthy, and biodiverse areas surrounding our homes.
Stormwater is caused by impervious surfaces collecting rainwater, as opposed to having it naturally soak into the ground. The issue here is that these surfaces are also colleting pollutants like pet waste, hydrocarbons, fertilizer, oils, and chemicals that are then mixed with the rainwater and diverted into drainage systems and / or ground water which can then contaminate the land and water that we depend on for nourishment. We can attempt to minimize this issue by prioritizing things like smaller development impact areas, preserving open space, and the use of pervious surfaces to help keep the water cycle closed and avoid contamination where possible.