The Sustainable Water Feature
…Is There Such a Thing?

Backyard Waterfall
Photo Credit:
mr_physics/Flickr

The earth is no stranger to manmade water features in the landscape. Water features have been part of historical landscapes for thousands of years, and sustainability or not, they will probably be around as long as water is. Ah, but that is the problem, isn’t it?

Water use in the US has grown exponentially and it is estimated that in many areas, especially the West, that up to 60% of residential water usage is used outdoors. Considering the typical household uses 400 gallons of water daily, that’s 240 gallons of potable water per household hitting the ground. With drought conditions in much of the country, that’s a high price to pay. Officials are rightfully concerned.

Sometimes, though it seems as if all the fun things in landscaping have been redlined as unsustainable (this is a misperception, by the way). Water features have been one of the latest hits in that category. In response to a growing water crisis in the United States, the EPA published their WaterSense guidelines in 2008. In this document the EPA recommended that water features not specifically needed in the landscape be eliminated. This includes fountains, waterfalls, ponds, reflecting pools and other water features in the built environment.

This has set off a storm of debate by landscape architects, landscape designers, water feature contractors and green professionals. This controversy is still hotly debated topic in the world of sustainability.

The Big Question

The important question is, does going green meaning giving up an aesthetic that for centuries has given delight and benefit to the landscape? Can there be sustainable water features that combine the beauty of water in the landscape with the need to conserve and preserve resources?

Let’s take a look at some of the sustainable benefits of water features next.

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