Seeing Green

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Going green is not just one of those crazy California trends. Communities and households are rapidly seeing the health, environmental and cost benefits of adopting water reduction and native plant practices. Huntington Landmark, a condo community of 1,238 units that spreads across 160 acre in Huntington Beach, California, has undergone an extensive renovation project that not only changed the landscape but also the ongoing landscape maintenance budget so that it delivered an impressive return on investment.
By converting lawns into more drought-tolerant landscaping, river rocks and artificial turf, Huntington Landmark dramatically reduced water usage as well as the use of necessary pesticides and fertilizers and eliminated future repairs to irrigation lines, valves and heads. The Metropolitan Water District and the City of Huntington Beach granted the community permission to utilize rebates for new weather-based sprinkler controllers and irrigation heads, plus a turf removal rebate for more than 11,000 square feet.  In response to rain and soil conditions, the landscape committee was very effective at turning water off for long periods, which also helped plants and trees develop deeper roots systems rather than just remain close to the surface.
“Due to our numerous conservation efforts, we realized an annual savings of $71,000 on our water bill alone in 2010,” said General Manager Tim Peckham of Professional Community Management, Inc. “We also realized additional savings in the thousands of dollars by reducing irrigation next to asphalt and buildings, thus dramatically reducing future necessary maintenance and repairs to buildings and asphalt.”
“Presently the community faces a $1.5 million asphalt renovation project,” Peckham said. “But the savings from water-wise practices and thoughtful use of drought-tolerant landscape will help offset the impact to the community’s budget.”
The decision to go green began four years ago when the landscaping committee decided to establish bluebird boxes to help increase success during the breeding season. The project leaders began thinking about the negative impact of pesticides both on the birds and the homeowners and, as they say, one thing led to another.
“From the birds and the pesticide reduction plans, we then focused on the issue of water conservation,” said Jeanne Kerr, director of the Huntington Landmark Landscape Committee. Reports from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California indicated that water sources were critically low due to drought, so everyone from business owners to homeowners is constantly reminded to be water wise. Kerr, who is an avid, lifelong gardener, wanted to do her part in her community.
“We started our green efforts very slowly and methodically,” Kerr said. The landscape committee began experimenting with artificial turf in specific areas. They also planted a small, California-native and drought-tolerant garden outside the community management office.
“The residents and the butterflies loved the garden,” Kerr said with a laugh. “And dog owners saw that their pets didn’t seem to notice the difference in the grass, so they too accepted the idea!”
Residents also enthusiastically embraced the idea of perpetually green artificial lawns that wouldn’t need to be watered and fertilized or require herbicides and pesticides. With the growing support of their neighbors and the board of directors, the landscape committee proposed bolder steps to transform the entire community.
“Many of our trees were 30 to 35 years old, and the roots were breaking up the asphalt and cement pathways,” Kerr said. By working closely with their landscape contractor, O’Connell Landscape, the committee identified trees that could be trimmed or needed to be replaced with plants that would not be as invasive to the hardscape.
“O’Connell Landscape has been an important member of our team,” Kerr said. “To any community that is planning to go green, I advise that they make sure their landscape contractor is on the same page.”
Kerr also gives credit to Tim Peckham, who came up with the idea of using the tree trimmings for wood chips and firewood that residents could take down to the beach. “Tim developed ways that less green waste went into the landfill, and we could reuse a natural resource for wood chips in aiding against soil erosion,” she said. “It all works together. By switching to mulch mowers for the remaining turf areas, these combined efforts have significantly reduced the cost of waste removal.”
The key factors to a successful green campaign are committee members who advocate change, develop practices to provide a significant return on investment and create simple solutions to reduce, reuse and recycle resources.
“When you can demonstrate to your neighbors that green practices help save their association maintenance feess and beautify their living environment, it becomes a real win-win situation,” Kerr said.
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