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Living Fountain

Sunday May 16, 2010

By Andrea Hurd, Mariposa Gardening & Design

living fountain

The Need

California's climate is definied by drought cycles and unfortunately, the impacts of climate change may only intensify these cycles.  Climatologists predict this may lead to more intense rain events in the winter and longer, drier summers.  This boom/bust cycle is one that contributes to California's annual drought woes.

California has been feeling the effects of a years-long drought.  Water districts and purveyors over the state have begun to implement tough water restrictions affecting residential landscapes.  Here in the Bay Area for example, water shortages have forced East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) to implement water restrictions that require its customers to drastically reduce their water consumption by up to 25% per person.

Because droughts will persist and likely become more severe, new technologies and water-wise landscape approaches are needed to address long-term water shortages and restore ecological functions in urban areas.

At Mariposa Gardening & Design (MG&D), we have always designed drought resistant gardens and have increasingly become interested in developing a more comprehensive solution to the perennial issue of dry summers. 

As one of our solutions, the Living Fountain was developed to keep gardens green in the Bay Area without taxing our water system.  Before describing the Living Fountain, first imagine the benefit of having a feature that can divert graywater (any washwater used in the home except for toilet water) from the municipal waste stream, clean the graywater in an attractive landscape element, and once the water is clean, re-use the water for irrigation in your garden.  In this way, the water is used twice before it enters and replenishes the groundwater table.  In addition to biologically cleaning graywater, the Living Fountain acts as a work of art and provides food, shelter, and water for beneficial insects and pollinators.


The Product

The Living Fountain is a biological system that is designed to be both an aesthetic water feature in the garden, as well as a way of filtering and re-using graywater from rain, washing machines, showers, or bathroom sinks. 

Water is initially routed from the source(s)--rain water runoff, washing machine, bathroom sink, etc--into a surge tank for the initial filtration of solids.  From the surge tank, the water is pumped into the living fountain and through a series of constructed wetlands that work to biologically clean and polish the water making it ready for re-use.  The water drips from the top of the planted areas, down through thick root mats to the bottom, where the water is continuously pumped through the plant roots again.  Once the water is cleaned, it is moved into the fountain area where the water is aerated before it moves into a holding tank where cleaned water is stored.

Once the water enters the storage tank, it is ready for use in the landscape.  From the storage tank inside of the Living Fountain, the water runs through a drip irrigation system.  The biologically filtered water is put back into the earth where it irrigates the plants, and then moves down into the earth where it restores the water table.  

The additional impact of the Living Fountain comes from the diverse array of pollinator insect species that are attracted to it.  A greater diversity of insect species has a dynamic impact on the healthy ecological functions in a garden.  When a greater diversity of insect species are present, pest problems tend to go away, plants tend to be healthier, and insect pollinated food plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and apples, are larger and more plentiful.

The Living Fountain is offered as an add-on product for landscapes that we design and install, and as a stand-alone product.  In the garden, it is seen as an attractive water feature that adds beauty and pleasure year round.