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8 Actions to Take Now to Reduce Water Use Through Low Impact Development

Use Less Water and Energy, Help the Environment and Fatten Your Pocketbook

The EPA estimates that in our driest climates as much as 60 percent of water is used for landscape irrigation. Even in wetter climates, the percentage can be as much as 40 percent. The Colorado-based non-profit River Network estimates that a frightening 13 percent of the nation’s electricity consumption is used for collecting, distributing and treating water. In certain parts of the US the number is even higher. In California, for instance, water-related activities constitute the largest energy use in the state, consuming 20 percent of the state’s electricity. A full 5 percent of all US carbon emissions are embedded in the nation’s water, the equivalent to the emissions of over 62 coal-fired power plants.

For the future of our planet, we simply must shrink these numbers. Employing water efficiency strategies through low impact development not only greatly reduces water and energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, they also can save organizations money and labor.

Low Impact Development

Low Impact Development (LID) is an approach designed to capture and reduce stormwater runoff by managing it as close to the source as possible. LID affects usage by reducing consumption of potable water and lowers energy use and CO2 emissions needed to import water. Successful LID calls for measures to retain rainfall on site rather than polluting nearby waterways, usually through the use of natural systems for infiltration, evapotranspiration and the harvesting and use of rainwater. Here are eight LID actions you can take that will reduce energy and water use.

Action #1: Design your landscape with water conservation built in. Also known as xeriscaping, landscapes and gardens can be created to reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental water. Plants should be placed based on natural land contours designed to capture runoff. Native plants are typically used to best fit into the environment. As water becomes more scarce and expensive, more and more professional landscape architects and designers are becoming well versed on water conserving design.

Action #2: Use rain barrels to capture and reuse runoff. Capturing and later reusing rainwater in barrels or cisterns can reduce runoff and conserve potable water supplies. Because roof runoff contains no hard minerals or chlorine, it can safely be used for landscape irrigation or other graywater uses. Rain barrels are relatively inexpensive and easy to install.

Action #3: Disconnect downspouts and direct runoff to a landscaped area. Downspout disconnection reduces stormwater in the sewer system, or if stored can be used for irrigation or graywater uses, thereby reducing water bills. Shallow depressions intercept and infiltrate small volumes of surface water. The technique is possible on nearly flat or gently sloping landscape. The shallow channels should be vegetated, blending into the surrounding landscape while carrying stormwater runoff a short distance. Typically, the water ends at a garden or other retention basin. Runoff can also be directed to a cistern for storage or to sidewalks or a parking lot so long as the material is porous. Disconnection is simple, inexpensive, effective, and easily integrated into the landscape design.

Action #4: Adopt smart irrigation. One of the quickest and simplest ways to address water conservation is to install a smart irrigation system that waters only as much as is necessary. Most landscape is overwatered, leading to numerous issues, from unhealthy plants to hardscape damage (brick, hardwood and concrete), slope and foundation damage, unhealthy fertilizer runoff and more. The best irrigation solutions use sophisticated techniques to determine exactly how much water is needed given type of plants, precipitation, wind, temperature and other factors, and automatically water as appropriate.

Action #5: Use permeable pavement surfaces for parking lots, walkways and roads. Impervious surfaces increase the amount of runoff and also contribute to heat islands. Permeable pavements can soak in up to 80 to 100 percent of the rain that lands on them and filter out pollutants in runoff that contribute to water pollution. Porous materials to use include unit pavers, porous concrete or asphalt and stone or other granular materials. A portion of any surface can be created with such material if it is not possible to replace the entire surface. Impervious areas should be separated, if at all possible. As an added bonus, permeable surfaces can also reduce construction costs by reducing the need for drainage features.

Action #6: Amend and aerate soil. Mass grading during any construction leaves little or no topsoil. Long-time turf-grass use can also lead to highly compacted soils. By adding organic material and performing aeration, soil health can return along with the soil’s natural water-holding and filtration capabilities. Not only does amending and aerating soil reduce the need for irrigation, it also reduces the amount of fertilizer and pesticides required.

Action #7: Plant interceptor trees. Trees help reduce runoff volumes and improve water quality by temporarily capturing, storing and evaporating rainwater from their leaves, branches and trunk bark. Leaf canopies intercept and hold rainwater on the leaf surface, preventing it from reaching the ground and becoming runoff. Root systems create voids in the soil that facilitate infiltration. Trees also absorb and transpire large quantities of groundwater, making the soil less saturated and allowing more stormwater to infiltrate. Through the absorption process, trees remove pollutants from stormwater and stabilize them. Finally, tree canopies shade and cool paved areas. Be sure to select trees whose roots will not cause damage to nearby hardscapes as well as trees that don’t require lots of water.

Action #8: Consider a green roof. Green roofs are beautiful to look at and are good for the environment. They serve to treat stormwater pollutants, reduce runoff volumes, lower the amount of noise inside of buildings, filter the air, and best of all reduce the amount of energy required for heating and cooling. As an added bonus, they extend the lifetime of a rooftop. Green roofs can be small or large – don’t feel as though you need to cover your entire roof’s surface.


By adopting one or more of these eight actions, you’ll lower your use and spend less on water, sewer and energy. You’re also likely to improve the health and beauty of both your landscape and your building. Lastly, you’ll be helping the environment by reducing off-site flooding problems, reducing the extent of municipal stormwater infrastructure and stopping pollution from reaching our waterways.

Let us help you with smart water management for your landscape and building, complete the form at the right, and one of our associates will be in touch.