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Entries in water conservation (6)


Water Conservation and Raiders of the Lost Ark

At this time last year, anyone concerned about my whereabouts would have found me walking through a majestic wind and rain-carved canyon, heading toward the center of the ancient city of Petra in southern Jordan. This tourist and scholar’s destination is an architectural and archeological marvel, considered by the UN to be the Eighth Wonder of the World. Ancient sculptors created Petra’s city structures and roads by carving into red, solid, sand cliffs. They started at the top of the mountains and worked their way down, developing grandiose buildings, temples, and tombs. Even the rooms inside the buildings were carved out of the rock.

It had been no more than two weeks before our group’s arrival when the temperature here had reached 44 degrees Celsius, [that’s about 111 degrees Fahrenheit!] Luckily, by the time we got to Petra, the heat had dropped to a mere 35 degrees, [a welcoming 96 degrees]. Large amounts of bottled water, a wide brimmed hat, and a neck scarf filled with cooling, gel crystals kept body temperatures at a survivable level.

The Nabataeans, one of the most gifted people in Middle Eastern history, settled this area over 2200 years ago. Here, where 90% of the land is desert, they built a powerful commercial and political kingdom. At one point, the capital city of Petra may have housed 20,000-30,000 people. With sparse rainfall and extreme heat, the Nabataeans were forced to excel in water conservation in order to sustain themselves. As highly skilled water engineers, they irrigated the land with an extensive system of dams, canals and reservoirs.

The inhabitants of Petra treated rainwater as a precious commodity. Paths carved into the rock mountains are lined with narrow gullies that send rain toward underground cisterns. Furthermore, carved into the facade of every building are vertical troughs that direct rainfall into aquifers. Historians and archeologists believe that it is this sophisticated knowledge of the power of water that allowed the Nabataeans to prevail in this harsh climate.

A striking phenomenon of this wondrous site is the blending of architectural motifs from several ancient civilizations. Their expertise in the caravanning business exposed the Nabataeans to diverse cultures, a fact that explains why the facades of their buildings incorporate design elements from ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, and Assyria. Wealth had made that possible.They had enriched themselves not only from an exclusivity in distributing incense  - essential for pagan rituals -  but also by their mastery of the region’s trade routes, where they levied tolls, and from the wide range of luxury products that they handled.

This ingenuity of absorbing and interpreting the architectural themes of other cultures, resulted in the creation of one of the most dramatic ancient structures still standing. The glorious Treasury Building of Petra is so intriguing that it featured prominently in the iconic movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.

Most visitors to Petra ask what happened to such an ingenious, cultured, rich, and powerful, nation.Some believe that they were economically compromised by the decline in the use of frankincense and myrrh, when Christianity was introduced into the area.. Others believe that, when Islam became the dominant religion of the region, the need to maintain a separate national identity diminished and that most integrated into surrounding communities. Still others take a more pragmatic view, and point out that commercial caravanning became less profitable for them when trade routes shifted from the areas they controlled to Palmyra, Syria and when seaborne trade around the Arabian Peninsula expanded. As a result, during the fourth century CE,  the Nabataeans left Petra. The fact that archeologists have found very few valuables on site, leads them to believe that the withdrawal was an organized but unhurried process.

Our departure from Petra was also unhurried, but that was due to our exhilarating fatigue. It had been an experience not to be missed and all of us on this tour would do it again, in a heartbeat. -  It was that awesome.


The Advantages of Self-Sustaining Gardens, a book review for

The Self Sustaining Garden, a guide to matrix planting Peter Thompson, Timber Press,

We are in the midst of a multi-faceted historical development in gardening that has been propelled by social change. In our era, time available to maintain a garden has become as precious as water in the desert. Consequently, alternative styles of landscaping are evolving; styles that require fewer resources. In one way or the other, all of the alternatives politely ignore traditional gardening philosophies. The self sustaining garden is one option.

The author submits that a self sustaining garden requires less effort because the plants do the work. The key to success is not to attempt to grow ones favorite plants. Instead, one must select those that are best matched to local ecological conditions. In such situations, what goes on in the garden will be controlled not by the gardener but by the relationship between the plants that are happy growing together.

The author refers to this kind of self-sustaining landscape as matrix planting and offers wildflower gardens as an example:  Wildflowers grow all over the world with no help from humans. They survive by forming self-sustaining communities-broadly know as vegetation- which shelter and protect the plants within them, while excluding outsiders. They are successful because the plants within each community have established a balance with one another which enables each to obtain a share of resources, living space and opportunities to reproduce…Matrix planting is based on this natural model…

Matrix planting requires less energy and resources as it contradicts traditional garden maintenance methods. For example, tilling and amending the soil is no longer required. Regular use of fertilizer is unnecessary; weeding of self seeding plants is discouraged. Pesticides and slug pellets are never used and irrigation becomes irrelevant. The objective is not to grow bigger and better looking plants, simply healthy ones that can survive without too much intervention from the gardener.

The author establishes the basic steps to creating a sustainable garden. They begin with proper soil preparation and an understanding of the concept of planting in patterns and rhythms. He continues with dedicated chapters that discuss the variety of sustainable gardens based on specific growing conditions, such as ornamental grass meadows and pools and wetlands. One chapter is devoted to the function of shrubbery while another deals with gardening in shade. Within each chapter, inspiring case studies are included and lists of plants appropriate for very specific growing conditions are supplied. From cover to cover, over 1000 plants are recommended.

Readers who are mostly concerned with water conservation will find this book helpful. Mr. Thompson points out that, even though it was not specifically devised to address problems of water shortages, matrix planting has much in common with water conservation. He reminds the reader that traditional, generous irrigation encourages unbalanced growth of those plants best able to take advantage of additional water. Matrix planting of self sustainable gardens reduces the amount of water required for a garden’s survival.

Mr. Thompson is a scientist. As a  botanist, he headed the Physiology Department of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK, where he initiated research of seed germination, seedling nutrition and the long term conservation of plant genetic resources. His book targets the scholarly, erudite gardener who appreciates a traditional style of garden writing almost as much as the science of gardening itself. In that regard, this publication is not a how-to manual, even though step by step instructions are given. This is a book for reference and consultation whenever sustainable gardens need to be considered. 



The Intelligent Use of Water Awards: A Grant Program for Water Conservation

Water is the most precious resource on earth. Without it, no life can exist. That not only refers to plants and animals but to human beings as well. That is why I was enthusiastic to participate when Sarah Eigner of Intelligent Use of Water Awards contacted me, asking if I would promote a contest for grant money for water conservation projects, sponsored by Rain Bird, an irrigation supplier.

I receive requests on a weekly basis, asking me to promote or link to products and services. I decline most of them because they do not reflect the focus of my blog or because they are nothing more than blatant commercial plugs. However, when I do mention a product, person or service it is because I believe my readers will appreciate or enjoy learning about the subject.


World Water Day will be observed on March 22, 2011, in order to promote the efficient use of water, the importance of green spaces and the sustainability of nature. To mark that event, Rain Bird is donating $50,000 to be awarded to water conservation projects, voted to be the most popular. Anyone with Internet access can submit their project idea to one of three funding categories ($1500, $5000, and $10,000) and then share it in social media.

Users can then vote and the projects with the most votes will be are awarded grant money on World Water Day, March 22, 2011.

At best, this is an opportunity to get funding in order to realize a dream project related to the conservation of water. At least, it will publicize ideas germinating in communities around the country and allow conservationists to share information about the inspiring projects of others. The process leading up to the awards could be educational both for participants and voters.

Some may be put off by the fact that the award program is underwritten by a commercial supplier of irrigation products. Don’t be! Look upon this gesture as an opportunity that might result in a net contribution to a significant water conservation program. It is of little consequence where the money for a sustainability program comes from because grant funds allow us to tackle a problem immediately. There is no longer a need to navigate the maze of government bureaucracy, begging for help. The planet is the ultimate beneficiary.

For more information about the Intelligent Use of Water Awards, here is a link to the site;


Agriburbia: Growing Crops on Suburban Lawns

Drought has permanently parched the lawns of Highland Ranch, Colorado.What would you do with your lawn if water were to become scarce? Here is a report of some measures take by wise communities in America’s west. Clearly, they understand the dire consequences of allowing drought to become someone else’s problem. A recent article posted to the online site of The Wall Street Journal tells the story and introduces a new word into our vocabulary.

According to a US Geological Survey, lawn irrigation in the United States represents an average of 32% of a household’s water usage. In western USA, however, that average climbs to more than 60%. These numbers are vexing because repeated droughts in the west have made water scarce there. Lawn irrigation is no longer sustainable. All residential projects now on the drawing board for that part of the country ought to be accompanied by a conservation program that treats water as a precious commodity.

A new suburban community is being planned in the West where the development team plans to use grass as a “throw rug rather than a carpet”. The members of that group understand that a green lawn cannot be a realistic expectation for future home owners. A water conservation program is essential if that development is to come to fruition. The picture above is an aerial view of Highland Ranch, a Colorado community in the vicinity of the planned project. Development of that neighborhood occurred in the 1990’s when water was relatively plentiful. The image clearly demonstrates how repeated drought has turned the lawn areas from green to straw-yellow.

Water conservation techniques for the Sterling Ranch, the name of the planned community, will include the use of grass as decorative trim only. This measure will apply to private property and community land equally. The balance of the land ordinarily used for green lawns will be covered not only with drought resistant trees and shrubs but also with edible crops such as strawberries, corn and herbs. This latter treatment is a new concept called: "Agriburbia”.

Furthermore, yards will be a few inches lower than the sidewalks, allowing these lowered lawns to become receptacles for soaking up moisture. Any runoff or rain water that hits the pavement will flow into 55,000 gallon cisterns built underground. This body of tightly rationed water will be available to homeowners for their gardens. Abusers of the program will be fined and will have their irrigation privileges suspended.

Developers are also monitoring ongoing research into photovoltaic panels mounted on tall poles that might act as giant sun screens to prevent the evaporation of water from storage areas. Finally, all athletic fields will be covered with artificial turf. It is heartening to learn that some communities in Arizona and New Mexico that are experiencing drought adopted similar measures and now report a decrease in water consumption. This is a remarkable example of what happens when communities are determined to solve a problem rather than talk about it in sound bites.

The details in this posting, including the image above, were originally reported by Stephanie Simon in the Wall Street Journal online on October 13, 2009. Her article is titled “In Arid West, Thirsty Lawns Get Cut from Plans”.



Image courtesy of the Parker Water Sanitation District, Colorado Is water becoming scarce or too valuable a resource in your area?

Plant a garden of drought resistant perennials in place of your lawn or fussy plants and never water your garden again. Xeriscape is the term used to describe an easy care garden that requires little or minimal rainfall, no fertilizer, and no attention.

This type of garden is also suitable for areas difficult to landscape such as a rocky garden or a steep slope. There is a vast choice of drought tolerant plants that will allow the gardener to impose a personal vision on such a garden.

Here is a list of some of the more colorful and more interesting drought tolerant perennials:- Achillea, Agave, Agastache, Anthemis, Artemisia, Asclepias, Baptisia, Centrathus ruber, Caryopteris, Coreopsis, Echinacia, Gaillardia, Liatris, Lavender, Lychnis, Nepata, Peony, Poppy, Oregano rotundifolium, Penstemmon, Perovskia, Physostegia, Salvia, Sedum, Yucca filimentosa. A good rule of thumb: most perennials whose leaves are silver color can withstand drought.

Because ornamental grasses are drought resistant, they are also suitable for xeriscapes. Here too the choices are only limited by the hardiness of one's growing zone.