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Water Alert!

A Wave of Communities Like Sandia Ridge and Sierra Meadows Discovers the Water-Saving Wonders of Xeriscaping

LILA BALTMAN

Chances are, if you own or manage apartment communities in hot, dry regions of the country such as Florida, Texas, or Arizona, where droughts, fires, and evacuations were all too real this year, you have already become familiar with the landscaping term 'Xeriscape.'

However, if you live in more temperate areas of the country where water is plentiful and where droughts are rarely a concern, perhaps the word Xeriscape has not flowed over into your vocabulary ... yet.

Pronounced 'zeer eh scape,' derived from the Greek word 'xeros' meaning dry and 'scape' meaning vista, Xeriscape is a patented name originated by the Denver Water Department in 1981. It refers to the fine art of creating water-efficient landscapes by using plants that are appropriate to the natural environment. Other terms synonymous with Xeriscape include waterwise and water-efficient landscaping.

'One of the mistakes that people often make when landscaping their property, is that they find plants they like and then try to make them work,' says Katherine Pordeli, education specialist at the St. Johns Water Management District in Palatka, Florida. 'But certain plants will not work in certain areas.'

According to Pordeli, 'Xeriscape is landscaping that conserves water and protects the environment. The trick to

success is putting the right plant in the right spot. ... It goes to reason that a plant native to an area will do best in those conditions, eliminating the need for water beyond rain or chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides.'

No matter what region of the country you're in, no matter how wet or dry, the more you learn about Xeriscape, the more you'll discover that this is the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to landscape your property.

Today, water has become one of the most precious of natural resources, therefore all of us in the apartment industry need to do our best to promote and maintain water conservation.

XERISCAPE IS NOT 'ZEROSCAPE'

Don't make the mistake of confusing Xeriscape with 'zeroscape.' When you see a landscape with lots of rocks and a few sparce plants, you are looking at a zeroscape. This design can often appear hot and boring.

A Xeriscape, on the other hand, is a landscape that can be lush and beautiful. Xeriscapes use a wide variety of native and other water-efficient plants to create color, interest, and an oasis-like feeling. Properly maintained, a Xeriscape can easily use less than one-half the water of a traditional landscape and requires less maintenance than a turf landscape.

Ann Tekin, co-owner of the Sierra Meadows Apartment Community in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was guilty of confusing the two, and for years resisted installing a Xeriscape in her property because she thought it simply meant installing lots of boring rocks and cacti.

It was only when a drought hit Albuquerque two years ago that Tekin decided it was time to investigate Xeriscapes more thoroughly.

'It's amazing how wrong and uninformed I was,' says Tekin, with a laugh. 'Once we hired a professional landscape architect and he began to install the Xeriscape, I couldn't believe how gorgeous it was. It completely changed our entire look and cut our yearly water costs by nearly 30 percent.'

Suddenly her 25-year-old community, which is located in the Northeast Heights section of Albuquerque and features 120 apartment homes, was given a facelift. The landscape of Sierra Meadows went from a bland look of all grass and gravel, to what landscape designer Bill Hays describes as a 'desert English garden.'

'When I took on the challenge of Xeriscaping Sierra Meadows, the look of their property was definitely outdated,' says Hays. 'There was barely any color anywhere.'

But once Hays went to work planting dozens of native Southwestern plants and flowers, suddenly color was everywhere and Sierra Meadows was soon bursting with purples, oranges, blues, browns, and pinks.

'Our new landscaping has changed our whole reputation,' says Leoni Chapman, property manager of Sierra Meadows. 'Not only have our own residents been completely supportive of our Xeriscape, but residents in the town often tell us what a gorgeous difference our new landscaping has made for the entire neighborhood,' says Scanland.

THE NEED TO CONTROL WATER

According to information provided by the City of Albuquerque, billions of gallons of water are applied to plants every year in this city, that, quite frankly, were never intended to grow in their distinctive desert climate.

In fact, the City of Albuquerque has been known to issue fines to properties and businesses that do not control their water usage in a safe and contained way.

'Some apartment properties have been so aggressive with their watering,' says Hays, 'that their water sometimes spills out from their grassy lawns into the public streets and sidewalks.'

In 1996, the Sandia Ridge Apartment Community, a 272-unit property located in the Southeast section of Albuquerque, designed a Xeriscape on its property and promptly removed 80 percent of the property's turf. As a result, the property managed to save more than 11,139,216 gallons of water a year.

'Our monthly water cost was reduced from $2,000 to $1,100,' says Pauline Scanland, operations manager at Sandia Ridge, which is owned by Archstone Communities, formerly SCG Realty Services. Archstone Communities is currently the second largest real estate investment trust (REIT) in the country, owning more than 300 apartment communities and totaling more than 90,000 units in all.

'Installing our Xeriscape was the smartest thing we've ever done,' says Scanland. Instead of using a sprinkler system, which used to run for hours at a time and water plants that didn't necessarily need watering, now Sandia Ridge uses a 'drip line' which selectively waters the plants that need watering. This drip system operates only three days a week. 'Every drop of water now is being used effectively,' she adds.

THE OIL OF THE '90S

While several individual apartment properties across the country are gradually being Xeriscaped, Lumacorp Inc. in Dallas is undergoing an exciting and aggressive company-wide Xeriscape transformation.

According to Kathy Whitman of Lumacorp, 27 of its properties are scheduled to be Xeriscaped this year. 'We spend a great deal of money in the apartment industry keeping our grasses green, our plants watered, and our annuals looking fresh,' says Whitman. 'With all this watering, as much as 17 percent of our monthly water bill is being spent towards landscaping alone. By installing Xeriscapes into our properties, we're looking forward to not only saving on our water and labor costs, we're glad to be playing a part in helping the environment as well.'

After all, she adds, 'We used to think that utilities were uncontrollable, but now I believe that the manager of the future is the one who can manage utilities.'

'Water has become the oil of the '90s,' says Whitman, 'and one of the best ways the multifamily industry can help conserve water is through Xeriscape.' U

Baltman is assistant editor of Units.
COPYRIGHT 1998 National Apartment Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Baltman, Lila
Publication:Units
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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