Rethinking Landscape Design in the Face of Water Cutbacks

April 30, 2015 • Community, Feature, In-depth, News

For landscape architect David Tatsumi, despite California’s recent mandate limiting water usage, design is ‘definitely not doomed because of the water cutbacks.’

By Tiffany Ujiiye, Assistant Editor

Gov. Jerry Brown ordered California’s fist ever-mandatory 25 percent cut in urban water usage earlier this month as the state enters its fourth year in drought. The mandate will affect millions, with fines totaling up to $500 from local counties, cities and water districts for those who fail to conserve water.

While agriculture consumes roughly three-quarters of the state’s water usage, the order targets urban areas. Freeway median strips will no longer be watered, and the state is making efforts to partner with agencies to remove about 50 million square feet of grass.

Efforts also include rebate programs to homeowners that encourage them to replace their lawns with artificial turf or the disposal of water-wasting appliances in exchange for high-efficiency models.

Recreational spaces such as golf courses, educational institutions and cemeteries are also required to cut water usage with the
new mandate.

In addition to Brown’s mandated order, the Metropolitan Water District, which is one of the largest water distributors, voted on April 14 to further cut regional deliveries to more than two dozen local agencies by 15 percent.

Water District officials are hoping to hel

p cities meet Brown’s mandate to reduce their urban water usage by the required 25 percent by limiting their deliveries. The cuts will vary between local water districts. As water supplies dwindle into the summer months, residents and farmers alike are feeling the pressure and crisis to conserve. Just this month, state surveyors found the lowest level of Sierra Nevada snowpack in more than a half century in record keeping.

Cities and districts looking to purchase more water will have to pay stiff penalties of up to four times the normal price, discouraging extra consumption.

Funds collected from the penalties will go toward the Metropolitan turf removal program and other conservation programs.

DT-leaning-on-counter

The following went into effect in California on April 15:
•    All restaurants, bars and hotels will stop serving water unless customers request it.
•    All hotels and motels are required to provide signs in rooms informing guests that they may choose to opt out of their linens and towels washed daily.
•    California residents are banned from landscaping and watering lawns with potable water within 48 hours after measurable rainfall.
•    Cities, counties, water districts and private companies are required to limit watering their lawns to two days a week unless they are already limiting lawn and landscape watering to a certain number of days a week.

Watering limitations for lawns will apply to all 411 water providers, covering more than 95 percent of the state’s population. However, there are loopholes in the points listed. If water providers are already limiting their usage during the week, even if it is more than two days a week, they can continue to abide by those rules, allowing them to not comply with the new two-day rule.

For landscape architect David Tatsumi, such efforts are nothing new. In fact, the landscape architect field has always considered efficient watering and irrigation in its projects, according to Tatsumi.

With more than 28 years of experience, Tatsumi has been a board member of the California State Board of the Landscape Architects Technical Committee (1998-2003) and Director of the “Conference on Water Conservation” at California Polytechnic University Pomona in 1991; he is currently the Technical Expert for the State Board.

“This is nothing new,” said Tatsumi. “For many years, irrigation and planting design have always been together for me. We are always looking for sustainable solutions, so Gov. Brown’s new requests haven’t changed the way I design my projects.” Tatsumi opened his landscape architectural firm Tatsumi and Associates in 1985 after working with one of the field’s founding fathers, Francis Dean at EDAW.

Landscape architecture over the years has evolved from just planting design into a multifaceted industry, involving both functional and aesthetic design of public and private spaces.

“Traditionally, landscape architects don’t consider irrigation and water efficiency into their designs,” Tatsumi admitted, but such practices are hard to continue with dwindling water levels.

The Green River Road Gateway landscape concept by David Tatsumi and his team for the city of Corona

The Green River Road Gateway landscape concept by David Tatsumi and his team for the city of Corona

Tatsumi and his team incorporate drip systems, a new development in irrigation that maximizes water distribution for efficiency along with smart controllers. These days, the controllers are advanced, using smart data such as weather, humidity and rainfall. The technology along with design incorporations like grouping similar water demanding plants together can cut costs overall not just for businesses and public spaces but also for private homes.

For example, when homeowners plant a tree in the middle of their lawn, they run the risk of wasting water very easily. Grass roots grow a few inches into the soil, whereas the tree’s roots may go as far as three feet down into the soil. The varying depth in watering poses a dilemma for watering requirements. Either water the grass and risk killing the tree or irrigate the tree and waste water. Tatsumi and his team easily work around the dilemma by simply grouping like-plants together.

“Your lawn doesn’t necessarily have to look like a dessert for it to be water-savvy,” explained Tatsumi. “Avoiding ice plants like aloe vera or succulents can reduce water consumption. There are alternative plants to use when designing any space, private or public.”

In addition to sustainable and high-efficient irrigation design, Tatsumi also looks to maximize the overall aesthetic look of his projects.

Contractors and engineers look for efficiency, something that works, whereas landscape architects look to improve the over aesthetic of the space.

“For us, we try and bridge that aesthetic and efficiency together,” Tatsumi explains.

In Nick Federoff’s PBS feature “Things Green,” Tatsumi explains how some design concepts can truly shape a space without people knowing it. The show explores how small spaces using different textures like brick vs. concrete can quicken or slow down people as they walk through them. The way people enter spaces unconsciously can be shaped through design, playing with psychological perceptions.

Today, the architectural design firm is involved in many visual quality management projects. The agency, along with environmental teams and engineers, works to model and assess what the visual impacts of projects such as freeways, bridges or any other developments will be.

For now in places like the Bay Area, some water providers are limiting lawn-watering days with no enforcement, leaving homeowners left to take actions.

“We don’t want places to look like garbage, and it doesn’t have to,” Tatsumi suggested. “Design is definitely not doomed because of the water cutbacks.” 

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