Thursday, September 22, 2011

Musings on watershed-friendly landscaping...

This is one of those times where I am using my blog as just that, a log of my thoughts for the day. No photos, just my verbal ramblings about residential and commercial landscape practices and how they might become more supportive rather than detrimental to local watersheds.

Today I attended the first meeting of (working name) "Santa Monica Mountains Watersheds Council." The objective of the meeting was to begin a visionary process, using consensus-building techniques, to brainstorm and to identify potential projects to which the Council should commit itself.

I suggested professional education for landscapers in the area might help the Council toward its goals of 1) improving water conservation, 2) improving water quality, and 3) restoring ecosystems within the watersheds, by promoting sustainable landscaping. When it was mentioned that potential projects also seeking to mitigate energy use and air pollution might be more easily funded, I hastened to reiterate that traditional landscape practices also cause air pollution and consume a lot of energy. Thus, to promote through education more sustainable methods of designing, implementing, and maintaining landscapes also seeks to mitigate energy use and air pollution.

The following stream (pun intended... sorry!) of consciousness is excerpted from a follow up note I sent to the meeting coordinator:

My point in recommending education of landscape professionals in "watershed-friendly" landscaping is motivated by observation. 1) Landscape practices can, and I believe do, have a huge negative impact on the environment... water quality, noise pollution, air pollution, and downstream habitats. 2) Owners of landscapes (residential as well as commercial) tend to abdicate responsibility for how landscapes are managed to their "gardeners" or "maintenance firms." While the "point source" in this case is geographically general, the practices that lead to negative impacts are specific and correctible.

Public education is very important, but as far as landscape practices and related matters, it currently only reaches the small percentage of folks who manage their own landscapes as well as professionals who are predisposed to favor the environment.

Keep pushing with public education, though. Connect homeowners as "employers" with responsibility for what work they hire done, and its impact on the environment. Teaching kids about environmentally-friendly landscape practices, those that
aren't, and how to tell the difference will make them better informed future consumers.

"Out of the box" thinking will be needed to engage the majority of landscape professionals. Engaging them in large numbers could have dramatic results, but like anyone, they'll be largely motivated by "what is in it for me?"

There is a interdependent network of businesses and people whose success and livelihood depends on business as usual. That is, chemically dependent, gas guzzling, lawn-based monocultures that hurt the environment but are the hallmark of status within our urban/suburban culture. Finding ways to build consensus with these people will be key. And, incremental change can be better than no change at all.

CLCA [California Landscape Contractors' Association], and their CEUs and seminars at industry shows might be a starting point.

To engage para-professionals (i.e., "mow and blow" guys) who are managing most small/mid-size residential gardens will take even more creativity, perhaps reaching out to them where they live and socialize.

Alternative landscape equipment needs to target broad audience of professionals. However, it isn't in great demand (yet!) That, of course, limits R&D and supply. Existing options are weak in design and/or pricey. A colleague is promoting professional use of homeowner-owned [dedicated] maintenance equipment. Challenges are cost, storage space, and access to equipment.

Legislation has its place. However, "bans" are difficult to enforce. Promoting sustainable alternatives will be more palatable, especially when professionals come to realize economic and health benefits to themselves.

To reiterate, finding ways to build consensus even with those viewed traditionally as adversaries will be key. And, incremental change can be better than no change at all.

Later, I added this post script...

I believe addressing/mitigating landscape impacts on the environment can help create a more hospitable environment within the ecosystems for other mitigations to have greater success and longer-lasting [positive effects.] E.g., won't [reintroduced] salmon and other endangered species have a better chance to thrive in less polluted water? [Actually, here, I'd meant to refer to indigenous trout rather than salmon. I guess my rumbling stomach was invoking its preference for salmon.]

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