More than half the global population could be living in water-stressed regions by 2050 (CBC, 2021). This means that what we do now to conserve water will have a major impact on the future. At OnGrowing Works, we know that construction and horticulture are some of the most water-consuming industries, so we believe in doing our part to incorporate water resilient strategies into our work. In this Q&A, Bruce Kay, OnGrowing Works owner and chief inspiration officer, shares his thoughts on water resiliency and why it’s important.
Q: In your own words, what is water resiliency?
A: The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines resiliency as, “An ability to recover from or adjust easily to adversity or change.” OnGrowing Works takes this definition one step farther and looks at resiliency as the means not being dependent on the supply. When you add water to that definition and apply it to horticulture, it’s essentially planning, designing and constructing outdoor projects that do not rely on municipal water sources or hardly require any water.
Q: In our society, why is water resiliency important?
A: Water is life, and it’s one of our four elements. We’re extremely privileged in Canada because we have 7 per cent of the world’s freshwater. We often take this valuable source for granted and don’t realize that it’s a finite resource. In Cochrane, Alberta, 70 per cent of our fresh drinking water is used for exterior applications such as washing vehicles, irrigating soccer fields, etc. We need to stop and ask ourselves, “Do we need to use this much water?” We all play a part in water resiliency; it’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure that current and future generations have access to freshwater resources.
Q: When you’re working on an outdoor space, what are some of the ways that you incorporate water resiliency?
A: When we work on an outdoor space, our goal is to reduce hard, grey surfaces and make them green. We plan and design spaces that rely on storm water and use plants that naturally don’t require a lot of water to thrive. When it rains, our plans and designs slow rain water from getting back to the river by capturing it through active and passive water harvesting techniques. When we do this, we’re maximizing natural storm water usage and not tapping into municipal water sources. In addition, our designs incorporate minimal lawn space and water harvesting features. Lawns are one of the largest water consumers and traditional water features require municipal water sources to run.
Q: What is active and passive water harvesting?
A: Active water harvesting is capturing water and storing it for later through the use of pipes, tanks or pumps. Passive water harvesting is taking stormwater that lands on the ground and manipulating it. For example, rain gardens are an ideal way to accumulate large volumes of water in a landscape, and through the use of swales, berms, depressions and water loving plants, the water is soaked back into the ground. With passive water harvesting, the goal is to keep the water in the garden for as long as possible. At OnGrowing Works, we recommend incorporating passive water harvesting first into your outdoor space and then adding in active water harvesting techniques. Incorporating passive techniques first allows you to do everything you can to shape the land so it slows water from escaping before tapping into actively harvested water sources that you may need at a later date. If passive techniques are done correctly, there isn’t as much reliance on active sources.
Q: What are a few ways that people can incorporate water resiliency and water harvesting into their outdoor spaces?
A: There are a few things that people can do to harvest water in their outdoor spaces. First, evaluate the hard surfaces in your space and consider getting rid of as many as you can. A lot of hard surfaces are permeable and can soak up water. Second, use more soil in your outdoor space and focus specifically on water absorbing soils that don’t include a lot of clay (clay has a low water holding capacity). When you put soil in your space, make sure that you plant it as deep as possible so that it can absorb into the ground. Next, consider using bark mulch on top of the soil. Bark mulch acts as an insulator that allows water to stay in the soil longer and deters weeds from germinating. After the bark mulch, incorporate swales, berms, depressions and water loving plants to slow water from escaping your outdoor space. Finally, get a rain barrel. This is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to collect rainwater.
Have more questions about water resiliency and water harvesting? Contact us now to chat.