Waterwise Wednesday: Policy Works

Researchers, led by Estelle Chaussard from the University of Buffalo, link ground water recovery in Santa Clara Valley California to the state’s newly instated water conservation efforts—policies that diverted surface water to refill aquifers

In 2013, interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSARa) measured a 2-centimeter decrease in ground-level elevation, followed by another 3 centimeters in 2014. The research team estimates a groundwater loss of about a tenth of a cubic kilometer caused the ground to shrink or lower.

Ground surfaces began to expand and rise in September 2015, rising nearly 2 centimeters over the next two years and were at pre-study levels by the end of 2016. This reflects the same time surface water diversion policy went into effect.

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Waterwise Wednesday: The Heat is On

 

It’s mid-summer, Panhandle temperatures rise and both the landscape and drought map begin to turn yellow and gold. According to the Drought Monitor, Scotts Bluff County is now experiencing abnormally dry conditions.

The water we use now greatly affects the supply we have in the future – especially if drought conditions spread and continue. Scottsbluff’s water system relies on groundwater pumped through wells, instead of surface water, which replenishes very slowly. Dry or drought conditions cause less regeneration of the ground water supply. Please use water wisely and conservatively.

http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/…/current/current_high_plains…

Waterwise Wednesday: The Water’s On

It’s nearly July and the gardens are green and full of early summer blossoms – using just rainwater.

Late last week the City of Scottsbluff finally turned the water on the downtown gardens, about three months after lawn watering began around the city. Native and well adapted plants use much less water than traditional turf once established.  They’re also drought hardy, provide needed habitat for pollinators and create a distinct sense of place with a plant palate tailored for the Nebraska Panhandle.

Downspout Redirection

Downspout Redirection

Take full advantage of the rain showers this spring by redirecting your downspouts onto your yards. Make sure your downspouts deposit rainwater where it can be put to good use. The amount of rainwater that gets into the street will be greatly reduced and your gardens and yards will benefit greatly from it. Remember to try to direct rainwater at least 5 feet from house foundations to prevent potential leakage! For more information visit the Water Environment and Reuse Foundation.

Greening Up the Urban Environment- Part III

The following is Part III of a three part series focusing on the City of Scottsbluff’s 319 grant projects.  These projects are designed to reduce impervious cover in parking lots, filtering and infiltrating stormwater runoff.  This article will go over project successes.  For an overview of the projects, see Part I.  For project challenges and lessons learned, see Part II.

In the last article, we went over the challenges of landscaping a hot, harsh urban environment.  Now that we have gone over the difficulties of these projects, we are going to outline some of the practices we used that worked well.  The following is a list of some of the techniques that were effective and that we will be using in the future:

A mixture of native and well-adapted plants do well with minimal inputs of water, fertilizer, and pesticides.
A mixture of native and well-adapted plants do well with minimal inputs of water, fertilizer, and pesticides.
  • Plant Selection- Thanks to the help of the Nebraska Forest Service and the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, we were able to use a very carefully chosen plant list.  This plant list included several tried and true plants for our area, such as catmint, yarrow, jupiter’s beard, butterfly milkweed, and asters, as well as some lesser-known selections, such as thelosperma and plumbago.  We will be monitoring these landscapes to see which of these plants do well over time, helping to expand our palette of plants we know to be successful in this area.
Native sedges are a great choice for areas with poor soil drainage
Native sedges are a great choice for areas with poor soil drainage
  • Sedges- While this also refers to plant selection, the unique functionality of our sedges merits them their own bullet point.  Because the projects are designed to capture stormwater, and because the soils were in such poor condition when we started our projects, we had several areas that were poorly drained.  These were the areas where we planted sedges, some of them which were literally planted in standing water.  These sedges have thrived, looking very attractive while serving the very important function of cleaning and filtering stormwater before it reaches the storm drain or is infiltrated into the ground.  There are very few plants that do well when exposed to extended periods of standing water; we have had great success with using sedges in these difficult areas.
The existing storm grate before we installed the landscaping would have been easily plugged by floating mulch
The existing storm grate before we installed the landscaping would have been easily plugged by floating mulch
  • Beehive Storm Grate- The previous storm drain was a typical rectangle grate that was flush with the ground.  We talked about some of the challenges of mulch in our previous article; one of the other challenges is that it can plug a storm drain.  The storm drain we chose for the overflow of our retention area, shown below, is designed to keep from plugging when the water gets deeper and mulch starts floating.  After experiencing a few strong thunderstorms, it appears that this design has been very effective at keeping the storm drain open to receive overflowing stormwater runoff.
The beehive storm grate we installed is great for carrying stormwater overflow without plugging
The beehive storm grate we installed is great for carrying stormwater overflow without plugging
  • Strategic Placement of Hardscape- We allowed several areas throughout the landscape for people to pass through as they were leaving their vehicles.  This seems to have cut down on the amount of foot traffic we receive in the landscape itself.  Additionally, in an area that was constantly being driven over, we strategically placed a boulder.  This not only has aesthetic value, it has completely stopped vehicles from driving over this part of the landscape.
Strategically placed hardscape helps keep traffic out of landscape beds
Strategically placed hardscape helps keep traffic out of landscape beds

At this time, those are the most noticeable successes that we have seen.  We are hoping that over time, using large landscape beds with adequate soil rooting volume for trees will help the trees to be more successful long-term; however, it will be several years before we know for sure if it is a success.  We are also hoping to turn off the drip irrigation systems in the future.  During their first summer, though, we will be leaving the irrigation on to help the plants establish their root systems.  We may have to continue irrigating during extended dry periods.  We will also be observing our plants over time to see how they do- watch for future articles outlining specific plant selections that have done well.  All in all, perhaps the greatest success has been being able to remove over 9,500 square feet of concrete from our parking lots and replace it with a beautiful, functional landscape that will have great environmental benefits for years to come.

downtown landscaping

More Than Just Another Pretty Landscape by Dick Meyer

A Prairie Garden Journal                              

When I was learning how to design landscapes half a lifetime ago, the most important aspects of the design process were function and aesthetics.   “Function” was the first phase of the design process—identifying the landscape rooms and connecting paths which best served the activities and lifestyle of the family or persons living in the home or on the property, and then arranging those rooms and paths on the site in much the same way that one would plan the floorplan of a new home.   “Aesthetics” was the second phase of the landscape design process—creating the walls, floors, and ceilings of the landscape rooms and making those walls, floors, and ceilings look pretty—especially the walls.   This is where having a long list of colorful trees, shrubs, flowers, and ornamental grasses came in handy.

But over the past two decades, another important aspect of landscape design has slowly been emerging and it almost certainly will become as important as function and aesthetics in the design process.   This new and important aspect of the landscape design process doesn’t even have an agreed upon name yet–some are calling it ecological functionality or ecological sustainability, others call it ecological coherence or  restorative landscape design.    The lack of a clear name for this new aspect of landscape design reflects the underlying complexity of what it attempts to do—nothing less than to make your home landscape as ecologically functional as a natural landscape.  That may sound like an easy thing to do, but it turns out that God was a little smarter than most of us humans.

Landscape phenomena or trends such as xeriscaping, use of native plants, raingardens and bioswales, are, without a doubt, all a part of the growing awareness of both the importance of landscape to the health of human beings and the complexity of recreating man-made landscapes that are functionally as healthy as natural landscapes.

At this point it might be worthwhile to review just exactly what it is that the earth’s natural landscape does for us human beings (and all other living things).   Let’s see.  Well it creates the air that we breathe—that’s pretty important.   And it creates the pure, clean water that we drink.  I like water, how about you?  And it grows the food that we eat.  Anyone else get hungry?   And on top of that, many of the earth’s natural landscapes are just downright beautiful to look at.

With only a billion or two human beings on the planet, the capacity of the earth’s natural landscape to provide plenty of clean air, pure water, and healthy food was not a problem.  But with the earth’s human population predicted to reach 9 billion within a few decades, most of those who study the subject say that we humans are going to have to make dramatic changes to how we live in order to allow the earth to continue to create enough clean air, pure water, and healthy food for that many people (and all of the other living things, too.)

Just to be clear, I am not one of those wild-eyed environmentalists running around with my hair on fire and a “THE END IS NEAR” sign.   OK, I may be a wild eyed environmentalist, but my hair’s not on fire and I don’t think that the end is near.    There are two reasons why my hair’s not on fire and I’m not carrying a sign.   First, I have great optimism about the capacity of we humans to learn and eventually do the right things, and, second, I have an even greater optimism about the capacity of Nature to heal itself and endure.

Which brings me back to what’s going on in western Nebraska.   The downtown Scottsbluff parking lot raingardens/bioswales, the bioswale at the Scottsbluff Public Library, the proposed landscape development for the downtown business district in Scottsbluff are all part of larger process to make the landscapes in which we humans live to be more than just pretty landscapes.   These are a part of the early attempts of we humans to create landscapes which are not only pretty, but which also do a better job of producing clean air to breathe, pure water to drink, and healthy food to eat.

So make no mistake about it.  These are cutting edge landscape concepts being implemented in a small community in western Nebraska.   That said, no one who has worked on designing or building these projects would claim that they already know how to create man-made landscapes that function as well as natural landscapes—but we will learn more from these projects than we knew before, and in the not too distant future I think we will be able to create highly ecologically functional landscapes for homes, businesses and public spaces which also just happen to be pretty.

 

Sustainable Landscaping Reduces Stormwater Pollution

The City of Scottsbluff, working with the Nebraska Forest Service and Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, has recently completed a project that will help reduce stormwater runoff and pollution.  We started with a parking lot that had over 16,000 square feet of impervious surface and no landscaping.  We broke out over 4,000 square feet of concrete and replaced it will trees, shrubs, grasses, and perennials.  Not only did we reduce the impervious surface area of the parking lot by about 1/4, we also designed the project so that runoff from the impervious areas that were left would run into the landscaped areas, where much of it can be filtered into the soil and utilized by the plants.  Keep reading for a step by step explanation of what went into this project. Continue reading Sustainable Landscaping Reduces Stormwater Pollution