This water feature conserves rainwater. As water runs off the roof, it moves through a gravel bioswale into a small pond. Stepping stones and porous pavers reduce the area of impervious surface and slow runoff. Image credit: SWT Design St. Louis MO.

Water is a precious resource, and natural systems are of critical value for their ability to store, clean and distribute available water. Gardeners can help protect this resource by conserving water, preventing pollution and building best practices into the design and everyday maintenance of a home’s landscape.

Additionally, water in a landscape can provide opportunities for restorative experiences and reflection. Such activities may promote healing, stress reduction and work productivity. The benefits people derive from having a stronger physical and mental connection to water and its sources are innumerable.

Water use is also apparent in many of our local community resources, like fighting fires, maintaining local parks or filling municipal swimming pools. However, communities all across the country are starting to face challenges regarding the supply and availability of water for these local services.

Using water wisely and efficiently, as well as planning creative and restorative uses for water in the landscape, will address the importance of restoring and maintaining natural water sources and systems, and will allow people to have a stronger mental and physical connection to water and the local climate.

How They Compare

Unsustainable Landscape Sustainable Landscape What Can I Do?
Treats stormwater as a waste product that is quickly removed from the site, contributing to water pollution. Manages stormwater on site. Uses stormwater as a resource to sustain the landscape. Avoid polluting water resources

Create a rain garden

Protect and restore vegetated buffers

Limit Exposure To Pesticides

Most irrigation systems use municipal drinking water. Minimizes the use of potable water. Supplements water in the landscape with on-site alternatives such as harvested rainwater, stormwater or air conditioner condensate. Use plants adapted to local rainfall patterns

Use alternatives to municipal drinking water for irrigation

Create a water-thrifty landscape

Why is water management important?

The shortage of clean water is rapidly becoming one of the most urgent challenges facing humanity. Only .003 percent of the earth’s water is available for human consumption, and, in the U.S. alone, 36 of the 50 states anticipate a shortage in freshwater within the next 10 years. Our home lawns and gardens are a significant cause of this. Americans apply more than 7 billion gallons of water a day to landscapes, often in the form of potable water, or drinking water, without realizing the costs of treating and transporting this water source. Moreover, stormwater, or precipitation runoff, is often viewed as a waste product and is removed from the landscape as quickly as possible. Instead of capturing and using stormwater in our gardens and landscapes, this resource flows through a costly infrastructure of gutters, downspouts, and sewers, often carrying with it residue from fertilizers, pesticides, and other pollutants that can contaminate local waterways like creeks, lakes, or rivers, and must be treated before returning back to the landscape in the form of irrigation water.

Learning specific water reuse and conservation strategies, gardeners can utilize stormwater and other non-potable water sources (e.g., air conditioner condensate) to irrigate their garden or landscape. Sustainable gardens capture these resources, store them on site, and reuse them in the landscape. Doing so saves money and protects nearby ecosystems from harmful pollutants. In addition, the amount of water going to storm sewer systems is reduced, lessening the likelihood of flooding and combined sewer overflows.

The role of water in a sustainable landscape

Water supports our environment and sustains our lives. It is required for producing food, clothing and electronics, transporting our waste and supporting the natural environment. The effects of climate change vary regionally, but sustainable water management and low impact development strategies can provide adaptive benefits for a wide array of circumstances.

  • Conserving water use reduces cost for irrigation
  • Storing stormwater reduces runoff and lessens the amount of water that contributes to flooding
  • Reusing captured stormwater in the landscape reduces the need for using potable water for irrigation
  • Harvesting water from non-potable sources like air conditioner condensate or greywater minimizes dependency on potable water use