Professional Practice

Sustainable Residential Design: Improving Water Management

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This project implements the first graywater reuse system for residential application in the region. It is intended to reduce water consumption by approximately 40 percent. ASLA 2010 Professional Residential Design Honor Award. Catalina Foothills, Tucson, Arizona / D. A. Horchner / Design Workshop, Inc.

Any residential landscape can be designed to both reduce flooding during storms and conserve water in times of water scarcity. Homeowners can use green infrastructure approaches, like bioswales and bioretention ponds; rain gardens; rain water harvesting; water recycling; and drip irrigation to more sustainably manage water.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates flooding has caused some $260 billion in damages from 1980 to 2013. And in the past decade, flood insurance claims now total $1.6 billion annually, putting further pressure on the already deeply-indebted flood insurance system. Sustainable landscape architecture practices -- including green infrastructure -- can significantly reduce the impacts of flooding on residences. 

Homeowners waste water by irrigating their lawns with water that should be reserved for human consumption. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), nearly 9 billion gallons of water is used for residential outdoor water use, mainly for landscape irrigation, some 30 percent of total residential water use. 

Sustainable residential landscape architecture—if part of an integrated site design, a comprehensive approach to sustainable building and site design—can dramatically reduce water usage while creating a healthy residential environment.

Homeowners can promote the infiltration, storing, and recycling of water, and limit the use of valuable potable water for landscapes. Bioswales / bioretention ponds, rainwater gardens, and local sustainable water recycling and drip irrigation systems can all be used to efficiently manage water. Homeowners can recycle and reuse greywater (and even blackwater) for landscape maintenance, car washing, and toilet flushing.

It's important to note that degraded and compacted soil will reduce water and air infiltration into the ground. Homeowners can maximize the benefits of natural stormwater systems by improving the quality of soil on their property though remediation techniques.

Homes that include natural green infrastructure not only better manage stormwater runoff, but also reduce the massive energy costs associated with running complex water management systems. Water and waste utilities are heavy users of energy and major producers of greenhouse gas emissions.

Local governments are also partnering with non-profit organizations to increase public awareness about using sustainable residential design practices for improving water efficiency. 

Source: Irrigation Controllers, Environmental Protection Agency

Bioswales and Bioretention Ponds
Rain Gardens
Rain Water Harvesting
Water Recycling
Drip Irrigation
This guide was written by Dana Davidsen and Jared Green. 


American Water Works Association

Clean Water Network

Renewable Natural Resources Foundation

The Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®)


Water Resources, Natural Resources Defense Council 

Aqueduct, World Resources Institute 

Columbia Water Center, Earth Institute, Columbia University

Ground Water Foundation

The Ground Water Association

Water Sense, Environmental Protection Agency

California Stormwater Quality Association

Center for Watershed Protection

American Society of Civil Engineers


The Water-Wise Home: How to Conserve, Capture, and Reuse Water in Your Home and Landscape,” Laura Allen, Storey Publishing, 2015

Water-Smart Landscapes: Start with WaterSense,” Environmental Protection Agency

Case Studies in Water Conservation,” Environmental Protection Agency


How to Save Water, the California Way, The Dirt, American Society of Landscape Architects

How to Save Water, the California Way (Part 2), The Dirt, American Society of Landscape Architects

Government Resources

Cases in Water Conservation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Sustainable Infrastructure for Water & Wastewater, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Best Management Practice #4: Water-Efficiency Landscaping, U.S. Department of Energy

WaterSense, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Water Conservation, City of Vancouver

Water Resources Plan, City of Phoenix, Arizona

Water Use It Wisely, City of Phoenix, Arizona

Ways to Save Water, New York Department of Environmental Protection  

Water Management Case Studies, Water Environment Research Foundation

Protecting Water Quality from Urban Runoff, Environmental Protection Agency

Portland Watershed Management Plan, City of Portland, Oregon

Green Stormwater Infrastructure Mini Grants, City of Seattle & King County, Washington

Stormwater Management, SNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF)

Green Stormwater Infrastructure, City of Seattle

Flood Loss Avoidance Benefits of Green Infrastructure for Stormwater Management, Environmental Protection Agency


DBX Ranch, Pitkins County, CO
Design Workshop, Inc.

Victoria Garden Mews
Santa Barbara, CA

Woody Creek Garden, Pitkin County, Colorado
Design Workshop, Inc., Aspen, Colorado

Vineyard Retreat, Napa Valley, California
Scott Lewis Landscape Architecture

Le Petit Chalet, Southwest Harbor, Maine
Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC

Maple Hill Residence, Westwood Massachusetts
Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects

Catalina Foothills, Tucson, Arizona
Design Workshop, Inc.

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