Colorful California Landscape: A Water-Friendly Garden
Colorful California Landscape:  A Water-Friendly Garden

Water Flow

A photo tour and explanation of the irrigation and drainage systems in our garden can be found in the Irrigation Tour section of this website. To see the statistics regarding how much water we are saving per month visit our Environmental Impact section.

The Water Cycle

According to Wikipedia, the water cycle (also called the hydrologic cycle or H2O cycle) describes the continous movement of water on, above and below the surface of the Earth.  The sun, which drives the water cycle, heats water in oceans and seas.  Water evaporates as water vapor into the air.  Ice and snow can sublimate directly into water vapor.  Evapotranspiration is water transpired from plants and evaporated from the soil.  Rising air currents take the vapor up into the atmosphere where cooler temperatures cause it to condense into clouds.  Air currents move water vapor around the globe, cloud particles collide, grow and fall out of the sky as precipitation.  Most water falls back into the oceans or onto land as rain were the water flows over the ground as surface runoff and some is stored as freshwater in lakes.  Much of it soaks into the ground as infiltration.  Some water infiltrates deep into the ground and replenishes aquifers, which store freshwater for long periods of time.

Water in Southern California

According to the City of Huntington Beach Public Works Utilities Division, Orange County's water supplies are a blend of groundwater provide by the Orange County Water District (OCWD) and water imported from Northern California and the Colorado River by the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) via the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.  Groundwater comes from a natural underground auquifer that is replenished with water from the Santa River, local rainfall and imported water.  The groundwater basin is 350 square miles and lies beneath north and central Orange County from Irvine to Los Angeles border and from Yorba Linda to the Pacific Ocean.  More than 20 cities and retail water districts draw from the basin to provide water to homes and businesses.

This freshwater basin is in contact with the Pacific Ocean.  As water is pumped from this basin and not replenished, this causes the salt water to come inland and contaminate the freshwater.  The Orange County Water District has a Groundwater Replenishing System.  It is well described (with animation) on the website.  An explanation of salt water intrusion can be found on the Circle of Blue website.

State Water Project slide show
Adobe Acrobat document [15.5 MB]

he Aquafornia blog states that water from Northern California starts as snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, traveling 600-miles from Lake Oroville through gigantic siphons, pumps and tunnels to reach us.  One of the most impresseive pumping stations is the Chrisman Wind Gap pumping plant (see photo below) which lifts the water up 518 feet up into the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains to cross the Tejon Ranch.  The State Water Project has a slide show that presents the journey of water from its origin at the 3,900-square mile Feather River watershed in Northern California down to its final destination in Southern California.

Moving water around the state is an energy intensive process.  Total energy ued to pump and treat water accounts for at least 6.5% of total electricity used statewide.  California has twelve hundred major dams, the two biggest irrigation projects on earth, and some of the biggest reservoirs in the country. Only about 25% is for urgan use, the remainder is split between irrigation and environmental purposes.

Water supports California's rich natural landscape and powers the state's economy, ranked 8th largest in the world.  California grows half of the nation's fruits, vegetables and nut on more than 81,500 farms.  The state also produces much of the country's domestic wine and dairy products. And a major connection to the economy and environment is the monumental  California State Water Project.  This is one of the most complex and sophisticated water transport, storage and flood management systems in the world.  It is the state's fourth largest generator of electricity and it's also the states single largest user of power.

How Residential Water is Used in Orange County

Outdoor watering of lawns and gardens makes up approximately 60% of home water use.  By cutting your outdoor watering by 1 or 2 days a week, you can dramatically reduce your overall water use.  isit for water saving tips and ideas for your home and business.

Your Water Footprint

The National Geographic website has a water footprint calculator.  They have several links about water conservation and buying guides.

Water Conservation Versus Water Efficiency

For years, water purveyors have called for water conservation.  Now, water efficiency is the mantra.  The difference is that water conservation is water reduction resulting from decisions that alter the consumption from your previous water use.  Often water conservation measures are short term while water efficiency is intended to bring permanent alternatives for water demands.  Water-use efficiency is an approach to determine the amount of water needed to support your choices and applying water in the most effective manner.  Whether you call it water conservation or water use efficiency; it all depends upon your choices. T he less you use, the less water is pumped, treated, stored and distributed.  Both conservation and efficiency save water and money.

If you are considering reducing your landscape water needs your local municipal water district can help.  With licensed professionals, they offer free water audits for your home or business. Their goal is to help you permanently use less water.

Efficient Irrrigation

Recent innovations in irrigation technology enable slow, steady, and specific water application.  When considering and selecting irrigation components for your landscape, look for "low gallon application rates."  Consider drip irrigation systems for shrubs and trees; turf is best watered with sprinklers.  Remember, grass is very thirsty, so keep its irrigation system on its own valve, or better yet, replace your lawn with water friendly plants and ground cover such as dymondia.

Drip irrigation is a common water friendly method.  A benefit of this method is that there is no run-off; all water is soaked into the soil.  This is the system we have in most of our yard.  We have not had any problems with this system to date.  A complaint regarding this system is that if it clogs it is very labor intensive to dig up the tubing to clear it.  Below is a picture of our drip irrigation system prior to it being buried.

Water Runoff

Gardeners greatly affect the ocean, and we do so in two distinct ways.  First, we influence the amount of water running off a landscape.  Between 30% and 80% of an urban/suburban homesite is comprised of impermeable surfaces, and besides the roof, most of this area can be changed.  And second, we influence the quality of water running off our properties and landscapes.  Rain falling into an ocean is not inherently harmful, it is the substances attached to it that is toxic.  Fertilizers, pesticides, oils, cleaning solutions, and organic debris all runoff our landscapes during rain (  These chemical and organic substances are the culprits that encourage harmful algae and bacteria.  CPR stands for Conservation, Permability, and Retention, and when fully employed, it has one of two outcomes: Water run-off is either eliminated or cleaned.

How Much Water Runs Off Your Property?

Total Catchment Area* ___________

Multiply by 0.55**__________

Multiply by Average Rainfall __________

* Total catchment area includes all imperious surfaces: roofs, driveways, and patios.

**Althought there are .6233 gallons of water per ince of rainfall (per sq. ft.), at least 10% is lost to evaporation in Southern California, hence the 0.55.

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Stewardship requires the recognition that we are all caretakers of the environment and economy for the benefit of present and future generations. We must balance the impacts of today's decisions with the needs of future generations. - The Minnesota Round Table on Sustainable Development (1998)