Government agencies incorporate sustainable landscapes

Government agencies incorporate sustainable landscapes

The government turns to green landscaping techniques after years of focusing on energy efficient buildings.

January 28, 2011
Industry News

Caption: The USDA in Washington is just one of several federal agencies looking to implement sustainable landscape techniques.

Just outside the Agriculture Department's Washington headquarters, a vegetable garden, native plant species and even beehives help harvest rainwater.

At an Energy Department laboratory in Golden, Colo., stormwater is recycled through prairie grass, rocks and crushed concrete recycled from construction to irrigate the surrounding landscape.

And at the Otay Mesa border crossing near San Diego, an artificial wetlands will be in place by 2013 to help reduce water consumption.

Those are just a few of the new "green" landscaping techniques the government is starting to use as part of its ongoing effort to become more environmentally friendly.

If agencies can reuse naturally occurring water for landscaping and irrigation, they can rely less on water from treatment facilities and become more sustainable, environmental advocates and experts say. "Because we are in an arid climate, we have to look at using water as a resource," said Brian Nicholson, a landscape designer for the Denver-based architecture firm RNL, which was the main contractor for Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory research support facility in Golden. "We looked at what we could do to slow down the water on the site and then we wanted to find the most water-efficient irrigation system possible."

At Otay Mesa, Customs and Border Protection was worried about the scarcity of water and started considering an artificial wetlands as opposed to non-native grass or other landscaping that would require frequent watering.

The agency hired Worrell Water Technologies earlier this year to create a kind of artificial wetland called a "living machine." This type of wetland uses bacteria and other microorganisms to purify used water for irrigation and to help grow native plants and vegetation.

Will Kirksey, senior vice president at Worrell, said that more agencies are looking at the landscape surrounding their facilities for their sustainability efforts. For years, he said, facility managers focused on energy savings and sustainability projects within the building and left the landscape's potential untouched.

"Materials and energy are important, but water is really what integrates the facility into the surrounding land," Kirksey said.

Nine federal facilities have joined a coalition to help develop new standards for measuring landscape sustainability.

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