Follow the water

Early 2014’s rationing to less than half our prior consumption was a turning point. Overnight I went from blissfully unaware of how we used water to resolutely committed to sustainable landscaping. Wanting a sound basis for tough decisions, I recalled life cycle assessment (LCA), a systematic evaluation of product stages from cradle to grave.

I set out to follow the water. Goal definition was 60% landscaping water reduction, and data collection was meter reading, irrigation mapping, plant material, and research. Analysis of water’s four interlinked stages of Source, Distribution, Use, and Processing inventoried flows, assessed impacts, and interpreted results.

LCA turned out to be a breakthrough in what had seemed an insoluble dilemma. It identified areas to re-engineer and cut consumption by 65%, with savings and details below:

savings from life cycle


Our water was from the local water district and infrequent rainfall. Some homeowners began to drill wells or import water after rationing. With water a shared diminishing resource, we decided to conserve instead.


Water was distributed with all new drip, yet we still uncovered inefficiencies, leaks, and unneeded consumption that when fixed cut our total water use 15%. Savings from actions like shorter showers and turning off water while brushing teeth are minuscule compared to water-efficient irrigation. And unlike shorter showers, irrigation savings continue after a drought ends.

3. USE

We had switched to drought-tolerant plantings two years earlier. Now we axed preexisting turf, slashing total consumption by 45%. We said good-bye to 9,000 square feet of grass, and hello to low-water plants, terraces, and paths. Grass be gone #1, #2, and #3 show transformations’ before and after.


Next up were maintenance processes. Stanching water loss led to another 5% savings and healthier plants. Rather than up stressed hillsides’ irrigation, we now control the slopes. Other revelations were to abolish open hoses, water after dark, and postpone pruning and fertilizing to avoid plant stimulation.

With my professional sustainability chops and good environmental stewardship of our prior homes, I’m ashamed it took rationing to jolt us into action. We never lived in a dry climate before and didn’t know how much water we used where, nor possible savings. Now we do, and our landscaping is water wise.