Savannah Memorial Park’s
Water Conservation Program
HOW THE 2014 SEVERE CALIFORNIA DROUGHT CHALLENGED US
In August 2013, the El Monte Cemetery Association chose to stop all water usage after a series of events left Savannah Memorial Park with extremely high water bills. First, the water manifold was stolen from the property; this was followed by a sprinkler system malfunction perpetuating a continuous run cycle for days on end. Then, after an examination of the sprinklers, it was determined that they were so water inefficient that watering the grass was basically a futile endeavor, especially knowing that Southern California was experiencing a severe drought. The responsible action we felt necessary was to shut off the water and work on a sustainable solution to make the property water wise.
During the winter of 2014, the Association discussed the growing concerns about water usage at the cemetery. We did not want to waste water, but we did not want to reflect urban blight either. Cemeteries are notorious as water guzzlers and we recognized a need to step up to the challenges of the drought to show our community and visitors it is possible to have an attractive landscape while using less water – but only if you landscape according to your climate zone. In Southern California, we live in a subtropical-Mediterranean climate and so this became our prime focus.
DEFINITION OF SUBTROPICAL MEDITERRANEAN CLIMATE
Wikiepedia.org defines a subtropical-Mediterranean climate as one with native vegetation that must be adapted to survive long, hot summer droughts and prolonged wet periods in winter. Mediterranean vegetation examples include the following:
Evergreen trees: such as Pines, Cypresses, and Oaks
Deciduous trees: such as Sycamores, Oaks, and Buckeyes
Fruit trees such as Olives, Figs, Citrus, Walnuts and Grapes
Shrubs: Bay laurel, ericas, banksias, and Chamise
Sub-shrubs: such as Sages, Artemisias, and Sagebrush
Grasses: Grassland types, Themeda triandra, Bunchgrasses; Sedges, and Rushes
Herbs: such as fragrant Rosemary, Thyme, and Lavender
PHASE ONE: RESTORATION OF A MEDITERRANEAN LANDSCAPE
After becoming a historical landmark, granted in recognition of our 1850s origins, we thought it would be rather intriguing to return the cemetery to a historical landscape. And so the designing fun began. As a 2014 State of California mandate was made to restrict water use on outdoor grass, it was imperative we reduce our grass to around 50-60%. At first this was a very difficult concept to accept, especially when the grass started turning brown. Yes, some people have complained about the brown, but this is only a temporary situation. Rather than be discouraged by the nay sayers, it became uplifting when supporters took notice and began to recognize and complement our water wise efforts.
http://1.bp.blogspot.com; accessed November 23, 2014
Our landscape process began when volunteers removed the dead grass in the area we call “inside the loop” (our circular driveway) and along the Valley Boulevard side. In this area we will reseed with a grass that requires less water than what was previously here. Next, under all the mature trees we have spread mulch; this provides nutrients to the trees, suppresses weeds, slows down moisture evaporation and mitigates lawnmower damage to gravestones. The City of Rosemead has a green waste program whereby they make mulch for their residents; they will be providing the mulch for our project. Rosemead also donated numerous new trees, which when they mature, will help reduce urban heat created by modern roads and vehicles, as well as cleaning the air we breathe. Inside the wells of these trees, Rosemead is providing river rock, which when it rains, will percolate and channel rain water back down deep into the water table. The tree roots will then be trained to grow downward to the water table to find a refreshing drink which will lead to less reliance on city water.
HISTORICAL PLAQUE, NEW PLANTS AND DEMONSTRATION GARDEN
By Thanksgiving 2014, the El Monte Cemetery Association will have finished construction on the wall that holds our historical plaque. Soon, you will see subtropical-Mediterranean plants surrounding the wall – a mixture of cactus, succulents and xeriscape plants, all offering rich textures, colors and shapes. Once established, these plants require very little water and can actually die if regularly watered during the summer.
In the future, we are planning a demonstration garden, complete with a swale-dry creek surrounded with plants that will become the foundation of an educational garden. Our goal is to make the cemetery a prime example of how to turn a thirsty open urban environment into an attractive California habitat, to show our community and visitors how to protect our most valuable resource: water.
PHASE TWO: MEDITERRANEAN-THEME ISLANDS
On the Mission Road side, we have planned expanses of mulch, mixed in with grassy islands. Among the islands we will have splashes of plants that are based on subtropical-Mediterranean specific themes – an herb garden, a bee, butterfly and hummingbird garden, a collection of cactus, a coniferous forest, an Oak woodland, and a wildflower meadow. The mulched areas will suppress weeds, provide nutrition to the soil, and requires only periodic watering. These water wise saving steps are the instruments that will allow us to lower our carbon footprint while maintaining an appropriate Southern California landscape.
Once we have finished all of these worthy projects, the cemetery will have returned to a natural subtropical-Mediterranean environment that will also be beneficial to the animals that visit the cemetery. We have a variety of birds, butterflies, bees and small animals that frequent our grounds that are also in need of healthy vegetation and water for their survival. We hope our environment will sustainably provide for them as part of the natural life cycle of our environment.