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Surprisingly Unsustainable: City Parks

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Most city parks are beautiful places with perfectly polished paths, colorful flowers, and beautifully sculpted fountains.

However, you know what they say: beauty comes with a price. In the case, the price is water. Lots and lots of it. Did you know that it requires at least 5,445 gallons of water per day to keep an acre of lawn healthy?

Think about Central Park. The entire park is almost 850 acres big. Imagine how much water the City of New York uses to water its lawn. The number is way too astronomical to grasp.

Not only that, but a mature tree drinks up about 15 gallons of water each day. A plant needs a steady supply of water, because any plant exposed to sun, low humidity, and strong winds evaporates water so quickly that it will die if it doesn’t get more water soon. Because of that, it takes even more water to replenish the water supply in trees, flowers, and other plants on a daily basis.

Now, let’s talk about fountains. After the late 1800s when indoor plumbing became more common, urban fountains became useless. Today they’re used for decoration around city parks. Many contemporary fountains recycle their water over and over again, but water is still lost through evaporation. The Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas (which holds 22 million gallons of water and is replenished each year with 12 million more gallons of water) loses 1,200 gallons of water each year mainly due to evaporation on hot summer days. Of course the fountain at your local city park is much smaller, but it’s still losing water nonetheless.

It’s pretty ironic that many people visit city parks to enjoy nature when city parks are actually hurting nature (more specifically, consuming lots of water).

City park unsustainability has become such a problem that some cities have taken (or are starting to take) action. Here are a couple of examples:

Boulder’s Thunderbird Lake

The Thunderbird Lake in Boulder, Colorado is a man-made lake that has had millions of gallons of water pumped into it since 2009. Last year, the town of Boulder decided to stop wasting water and take a more sustainable approach after 2013. They toyed with the idea of adding plants accustomed to a wetlands environment in order to encourage a healthy ecosystem around the lake. Today, Boulder is still trying to decide how to make the lake sustainable without spending too much money.

New York City’s Sustainable Parks

New York City has just taken an incentive to make their city parks more sustainable. They created a program to help reduce New York City’s carbon footprint, and a main focus is its parks. The program aims to design projects using long-lasting materials, add plants that are easy to maintain, protect biodiversity, reduce carbon emissions by converting buildings to be more energy-efficient, and conserve water by redesigning the parks to withstand flooding and capture storm water.

If you’re concerned about your community using up a big percentage of its water supply to keep its parks alive, you can start a movement to make your city parks more sustainable. You may attend a town hall meeting and voice your concerns. You may contact your city’s environmental services department and see what you can do. You can gather together a group of people and come up with a solution to propose to the city.

Has your town come up with a solution to make its parks more sustainable? If so, what did they do?

This article was written by Simon who is working for Fischer Plumbing in Seattle.

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