Day of Caring – California Parent Institute

Last week Firma Design Group was honored to participate in the local Day of Caring Event! While volunteering went on throughout the county, FDG employee, Steve Kovanis, dedicated his morning to helping install drought tolerant landscaping & irrigation at the California Parent Institute location. We were delighted to be a part of this project from the design and planning phase all the way through the implementation of our designs. We love helping out in the community and are honored to be mentioned in the Press Democrat article posted below (and also found here at Press Democrat Article)




Wearing bright orange T-shirts and armed with paint brushes, garden and power tools, brooms and mops, a corps of 1,200 volunteers fanned out across Sonoma County on Wednesday for the local United Way’s massive Day of Caring event.

At 50 different locations, many of them nonprofit organizations, the volunteers from 30 local companies and groups as well as government employees donated their time to paint walls, erect fences, spread mulch, install drought-resistant plants, and clean creeks, trails and residential streets.

“I brought my team out today to give back to the community,” said Daryl Schmidt, manager of manufacturing and test engineering at L-3 Sonoma EO, an aerospace and defense engineering company that contributed a half-dozen employees to the annual effort.

Many of the volunteers participated in a ceremonial kickoff at the Sonoma County administration headquarters in Santa Rosa at about 8 a.m. After the rally, the volunteers quickly dispersed to various projects throughout the county.

At the newly expanded offices of the California Parent Institute, or CPI, a force of more than 60 volunteers rooted about 500 drought-resistant plants, laid 1,500 feet of drip irrigation tubing and spread about 31 cubic yards of fragrant redwood mulch.

The project consisted of general landscaping and a new garden for CPI’s New Directions school for troubled kids and the Parent Education Center. The project, which CPI said would have otherwise cost up to $20,000, cost the nonprofit group only about $5,000 for materials and prep work.

“We would not be able to do a project like this without volunteers,” said CPI spokeswoman Tiffani Montgomery.

Montgomery said the giving goes beyond those who volunteered their labor. She said Firma Design Group provided landscape design and on-site supervision, while the plants and other landscaping materials were donated by Santa Rosa area companies Emirsa Gardens, California Flora Nursery, United Forestry and Driwater.

In the past two years, CPI expanded into the metal warehouse structure across from its original offices at the site. The building, formerly a tile warehouse and showroom, now is home to parents and kids learning new life skills.

“With all the new landscaping, it’s going to feel a little less industrial,” Montgomery said.

About 30 employees from Sonoma Raceway were at work on the CPI project. The raceway, which has participated in the annual volunteer event for more than a decade, also sent employees to the Sonoma Valley Teen Center.

“It’s just a really great way to leave a lasting impact on some of the nonprofits in our community,” said Sonoma Raceway spokeswoman Diana Brennan.

The event, which launches United Way’s charitable fundraising season, also gave those who benefit from local nonprofits the opportunity to show their appreciation.

Reymundo Sandoval, 17, and Kyle Jones, 24, are both leaders in Youth Connections, a high school diploma and workforce development program run by Community Action Partnership.

“We’re just out here trying to make this place look beautiful,” said Sandoval, who along with Jones was lending a hand at the CPI site.

Jason Carter, program manager of Youth Connections, said volunteer work is a big part of the program.

“We want them to give back to the community that supports them reaching their college and career goals,” Carter said.

Other organizations that benefited from volunteer work Wednesday included the Redwood Food Bank, the Earle Baum Center of the Blind, Friends House, CERES, Catholic Charities, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Santa Rosa, Russian Riverkeeper, Food for Thought and the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter.

As in previous years, one of the biggest participants in the Day of Caring was Keysight Technologies, formerly Agilent. With 400 employees out at 26 different sites, Keysight supplied nearly a third of the total volunteer roster. Another large batch came from the county of Sonoma and city of Santa Rosa, which together contributed about 300 employees to the effort.

“This is one event that our employees really love,” said Jeff Webber, a spokesman for Keysight.

At Samuel L. Jones Hall, a homeless shelter in Santa Rosa, Keysight employees took part in the facility’s biggest one-day cleaning event.

The work included touch-up painting, scrubbing of dining tables, reorganizing of food and linen storage areas and tidying up the library.

Val Peterson, an electrical engineer for Keysight, found himself cleaning a shelter hallway with a rotating floor buffer. Peterson quickly mastered the task.

“I haven’t buffed floors since I was in college, but it’s fun,” he said, adding that his participation as a volunteer is part of a culture at Keysight of giving back to the community.



CAL Fire

With all of the fires currently burning around the State of California and intensified by the drought, it is essential to look at how you can protect your home from fire hazard. “Firescaping” is a term that you will hear more frequently, which refers to landscape design strategies that reduce house and property vulnerability to wildfire. (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service). It is so easy to get behind on yardwork, but it is important to regularly look at the space around your house and see how you can improve fire safety. This is especially critical for homes on hillside slopes or within Wildlife Urban Interfaces or WUIs. To find out if your residence falls within a WUI, check with your local fire district.

“Defensible Space” is the minimum required space (at least 100 feet wide in State Responsibility Areas in California) around your home where plants need to be maintained to decrease the risk of fire hazard. The Defensible Space area is made up of multiple zones per jurisdiction: The ten (10) foot zone around your residence is a Critical Zone for fire safety. Trees and other woody pyrophitic plants should not be planted in this zone. Please refer to FireSafe Marin for a list of fire prone plants. Plant lists for more fire resistant plants are also available at FireSafe Marin. Additional fuel zones include: The 11-30’ Defensible Space Zone, and the 31-100’ Defensible Space Zone.


University of CA Cooperative Extension

The vegetation in this area needs to be well maintained and should include plant varieties that do not ignite easily. Trees and shrubs may be acceptable, as long as they do not provide a continuous path of fuel for a fire to climb and must also be well spaced out. Dried leaves and dead plants add fuel to the potential fires and should be removed, especially in the critical zone.

Critical Zone: 0-10’ Around Home

The zone 0-10’ around the buildings is either hardscape, or irrigated and landscaped with plant material that is low growing and nonflammable, as well as deer resistant. No trees are proposed in this zone.

  • Remove all flammable material from your rain gutters, roof, and deck & patio areas
  • Use fire-resistant vegetation or landscape rocks
  • Move woodpiles away from your home
  • Inspect your chimney annually, and install a spark arrester with ¼ inch or smaller mesh screen
  • If you have a propane tank, remove flammable materials within 10 feet of it

The 11-30’ Defensible Space Zone

The zone 11-30’ around the buildings needs to be irrigated and planted with a variety of low and medium growing groundcovers and herbaceous shrubs that are fire-resistant, and deer resistant. Individual plants or shrub masses can create “shrub islands” with adequate horizontal spacing. Some clusters of trees may be proposed for screening. All landscaping will be irrigated.

  • Remove all flammable vegetation, weeds, and any dead or dying plants
  • Remove pine needles, dried leaves, and debris from your yard, roof, and gutters
  • Remove all trees/branches around chimney
  • Re-locate all wood piles into zone 2
  • Remove or prune flammable plants and shrubs near windows
  • Create spacing between any objects that could light one another on fire (decks, swingsets, furniture, etc)

The 31-100’ Defensible Space Zone

  • Create spacing between any objects that could light one another on fire (decks, swingsets, furniture, etc)
  • Cut/Mow grass to a maximum height of four (4) inches, two (2) inches is preferred
  • Create horizontal spacing between shrubs and trees
  • Create vertical spacing between grasses, shrubs, and trees by pruning and limbing up
  • Remove fallen leaves, needles, twigs, bark, cones, and small branches





Always double check with local laws and ordinances, and don’t ever hesitate to ask questions! Firma Design Group has developed Vegetation Management Plans for many clients in fire prone areas and in Wildlife Urban Interfaces or WUIs. Our landscape plans, plant lists, and irrigation plans meet all local regulations and provide adequate fire defensible space for your property.

Garden Trends in 2015

Blog Ideas – Garden Trends 2015

Firma Design Group is excited to notice a new trend in 2015…gardening! You may have noticed more neighbors starting a new garden, or some that have gotten rid of their lawn and replaced it with a low water-use vegetable garden. Gardens of all sizes, from one pot of brussel sprouts on the front porch, to a row of endless raised beds full of multi-colored vegetables, are popping up all over, and we couldn’t be more excited about it! According to Turf Design Build’s “ 2015 Garden Trends” article in their December 2014 issue, young men of the millennial generation are spending $100 more per year on garden products and plants than the average consumer. Consumers are estimated to spend $7 Billion on outdoor décor and garden accessories in 2015.


The past several years have brought about a new sort of revolution: one that values community, health, sustainability, and the planet. We have seen consumers come together to try to change laws, and hold companies accountable for their products. Many have begun to take matters into their own hands, growing their own food organically and in a way that they can control. Community gardens have sprouted up in communities all over the state and country, bringing communities closer together.

Many of our clients are interested in starting or maintaining their gardens, and we are happy to help them create vibrant, healthy gardens that will really become an extension of the home. If you are someone who thinks gardening requires a ton of time and effort, have no fear – there are solutions for even those born without a natural green thumb. It’s all about choosing the right vegetable. Working full time on top of trying to maintain a social life can leave you with not enough time to wash your hair, let alone water your vegetables. This however, can be resolved by choosing low water-use plants that require very little maintenance. Many vegetables can survive even if you do forget to water them on occasion.


So you may be wondering where to begin. has a calendar that shows exactly what to grow each month in Sonoma County. With recent mandatory water restrictions taking place in California, many potential garden growers are wondering whether or not they can justify the water use that a home garden requires. When done right, gardens don’t have to use an excess of water! Also, you have to factor in the water use that large scale farms use not only to grow the food, but to transport it as well. Eating locally grown produce is great, but growing it yourself can be even better.

Compost is essential, because if soil is sandy and dry, it won’t retain water. It is important to add rich organic material to your soil to promote root growth and retention of water.

Mulch isn’t always an attractive addition to your garden, but it does wonders for keeping soil cool and damp. There are a wide variety of mulch options out there, so choose one that works for you, and add 3-4 inches of it to the top of your garden to water less frequently. When watering by hand, pull back a small section of mulch to allow the water direct access to the plant.

Drip Systems are pretty high tech these days. You can get timers for them that allow you to set up a consistent watering schedule that is right for your plants. You can also get pressure regulators that allow the right amount of water to get to your plants without over or under-watering them.

Grow the right vegetables; don’t grow crops that need consistent soil moisture. Spinach, tomatoes, chard, amaranth, corn, and peppers don’t require an abundance of water. Planting high-yield crops is great too – more bang for your buck! Try tomatoes, squash, peppers, and eggplant if you’re going for abundance. Most brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, etc. require more water and might not get a high enough yield to make it worthwhile.

Eliminate weeds, it might seem obvious, but weeding is a task that many put off until the weeds are overgrown. Weeds are competing with your plants for water, get them out of there as soon as possible!

Be smart with your water; everyone I know waits for the water to warm up before getting into the shower. During that time, gallons and gallons of cold water are wasted down the drain. Use that water for your garden!  It might be annoying to get a big bucket and lug it outside after your shower, but water is precious these days, so use it wisely!

Get Creative There are many ways to be smart with your water-use. While we have listed many, feel free to brainstorm more ideas. At-home gardens aren’t always easy, but they are worth it!


Keeping a Vegetable Garden During a Drought Year

California is having a dry year, and many of us don’t know how to keep a successful garden while still reducing our water use. Many of us love the idea of being able to grab fresh vegetables from the backyard garden, but struggle with the morality of using the extra water. Fortunately, there are many ways that allow us to have the best of both worlds. There are still plenty of ways to maintain a garden during drought years; it just takes a few easy steps.


Image via BFQP

  • Water plants in the evening (and water by hand)! During hotter parts of the day, water can evaporate before it is able to be absorbed by the plant. Most plants do not need to be watered every day. Allow soil to dry out a bit before watering again. Hand watering is the most water-efficient method, as you have full control!
  • Compost helps to retain moisture and increases organic content and microbial activity for increased root mass, allowing roots to dig deeper and find water sources deeper down.
  • Mulch moderates soil temperature, conserves moisture, and reduces weeds. Use a 3 inch minimum layer for optimal results.
  • Use shade to protect heat-sensitive plants from the scorching sun. Plant heat-sensitive plants in areas where they will get shade from larger plants, or use a shade cover.


Consider the following observations on which crops need the most water and when:

  • Some beans and sweet corn need considerable water to produce a good crop. Beans need water most when they are blooming and setting fruit.
  • Corn needs water most during tasseling, silking and ear development. Yield is directly related to quantities of water, nitrogen and spacing.
  • Peas need water most during pod filling.
  • Other vegetables, such as cucumbers and squash, and fruits, such as melons, need water most during flowering and fruiting.
  • Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant need water most during flowering and fruiting. (Note that after tomatoes set, they can do very well with reduced water).

For a list of crop-resistant plants visit:

Drought tolerant Plants

Other Ideas for Water Reduction

  • Remove your lawn! It sounds extreme but did you know that a three-person family in a single detached home uses about 150,000 gallons of water annually: 51% in the yard and mostly for lawn?! Removing your lawn or drastically reducing its size can help reduce water use by a significant amount. Rebates are often available for lawn removal. Visit for more information
  • Replace your lawn with a vegetable garden! Many people have begun to turn their front lawns into a vegetable garden instead, which can save water while providing food. Check with local laws and Home Owners Associations first though, because many may have restrictions against this.
  • Collect Water-Collecting rainwater is an easy and resourceful way to reduce your water usage. But not only rain water-what happens to the water that’s used while you’re waiting for the water to get hot? Stick a container under the faucet and use the water that collects to water your garden!
  • Turn off water when it’s not necessary such as when brushing your teeth, or shampooing your hair in the shower. If you reduce the length of your shower to 5 minutes, you can save up to 1000 gallons a month.
  • Update your appliances-many modern appliances were built with water-saving and energy savings in mind!

A Sneak Peek Into Our Backyards

Many of us here at Firma Design Group love gardening (big surprise there!) We can sometimes be found sharing photos of our gardens or discussing the tastiness of a fresh homegrown tomato included in the day’s meal. I thought you might be interested in seeing our gardens to give you some ideas for your own backyard haven.










Response to Mandatory Water Restrictions in California

For the first time in California state history, our government is enforcing mandatory water restrictions. Record low snowpack and near empty reservoirs and streams are signs that this matter is extremely serious.

“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action”

–Governor Brown


You may be wondering what these water restrictions mean for your residence, landscaping, and how the cities you live in will be impacted. The first two questions you need to ask yourself are, “How much water am I currently using to water my landscape, and could I be using less?” If you are unsure of how to determine the answers to these questions, we can certainly help.

P1080851If you have a front lawn, you need to decide whether it’s a necessary addition to your home, if it provides any functional use, or whether you’re open to change. Here at Firma Design Group, we have experts to help you with these tough decisions. As a Bay Friendly Educator, Steve Kovanis, our residential Project Manager and Landscape Designer,  has presented “Lose Your Lawn” seminars in Contra Costa, Marin and Sonoma Counties over the past few years that demonstrate the benefits and ease of lawn conversions to low-water use landscapes featuring native plants. The talks provide participants with the knowledge of how to accomplish the conversion and offer detailed information about residential rebate programs available from many municipalities and water districts throughout the Bay Area.


P1040458We would be thrilled to help you convert your current landscape into a low water-use, low-maintenance, drought-tolerant garden without sacrificing beauty or aesthetics. In fact, your converted landscape will offer much more visual interest and will welcome in birds, butterflies and beneficial insects for a vibrant and alive landscape. Firma Design Group is passionate about our work, and we infuse sustainability in each of our projects to the extent possible


Governor Brown is also partnering with local governments and requiring that 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state be replaced with drought tolerant landscaping. From a water conservation standpoint, this is a necessity, and will bring about creative and thoughtful design ideas from landscape architects throughout the state. There is great potential for additional local incentive plans to be developed where cities and municipalities will help subsidize your switch from thirsty lawn to drought-tolerant landscape.

While this drought is serious, we see it as a great opportunity to change how we design and maintain our landscapes. Hopefully, these mandated water restrictions will convince Californians to rethink their water use in every aspect of their daily lives. Whether it be focused on their landscape, or taking shorter showers, every little change helps. Let us work with you to help determine and implement water saving alternatives for your next landscape project or full conversion









Reduce, Reuse, Recycle…Upcycle?

We have all heard this saying repeated again and again, but what does it really mean. Sure, you can buy reusable grocery bags, or use brown bags to wrap up schoolbooks, but there’s so much more to it than that. Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value. What about those old tires you have lying by the side of the house? Or the bathtub that you saw on the side of the road? Or what about that wine crate that your wine club delivery came in? Some may see all these things as garbage, but I see opportunity. After all, one man’s trash is another’s treasure! The three things I mentioned above all have something in common; they can all be turned into planter boxes for your vegetable or flower gardens.

Old tires can be organized into various patterns in your yard, and then filled with soil and plants. This allows for a funky, yet fun garden to show off, all while being earth-savvy. Tires get thrown out or piled in junkyards at astonishing rates, but they can really add character to your backyard. The tires can be painted or decorated to add more excitement.

Bathtubs are another household item that make for excellent upcycling projects. My mother has an old claw foot tub that she found by the side of the road years ago, that she converted into a backyard pond. It was once trash, but is now surrounded with decorative bricks, various plants, and is even home to many goldfish and a turtle. My favorite idea for an old tub is to convert it into a garden planter. They can easily be painted or decorated, and then filled with various plants to add a funky charm to your yard.

If you’ve ever received a shipment of wine, you may have received it in a nifty little wine crate. Maybe you found a use for it, or maybe you just threw it out or stuck it in the garage. Why not plant something in it? The crates can be a bit fragile, but with a little extra love they can be converted into a perfect small raised garden bed. This is perfect for someone with little space, or wanting something portable to be able to move with them to their next home. Crates can be made sturdier with enforcements on the corners, and weatherproofing them is always a good idea to extend the life of the box. Drainage holes can be added with a power drill, and you’re ready to go!

Recycling and Reusing are always important to do, but always upcycle whenever possible. Our landfills cannot tolerate the amount of trash we are throwing into them every day. There is no reason to produce so much waste when there is so much opportunity literally being thrown out each day. Next time you go to toss something out, or recycle something, first ask yourself if there is any possible way to upcycle it or extend its life. You might add a little clutter, or a lot, to your garage, but future generations will thank you.

DSC05605 DSC05762 DSC05752

The Earthquake’s Silver Lining: A Chance to Move in a New Direction

Napa EarthquakeWalkability and alternative transportation options are in higher demand than ever, according to new research. This trend, along with the recent 6.0 earthquake centered in the Napa Valley, could be a perfect opportunity for North Bay cities to turn towards new alternative methods of transportation. After many decades of following an automobile-centric model of transportation in American cities, young people across the nation are starting to express a serious interest in alternative transportation methods that would liberate them from their cars. In cities like Napa, which the earthquake significantly damaged, there are now opportunities to redesign and retrofit parts of the current transportation system. Cities should seize these opportunities to improve their transportation systems and increase the overall quality of life for their residents.Napa Earthquake

The survey, organized by Global Strategy Group, was conducted on people aged 18-34 in a variety of metropolitan areas across the country. An overwhelming majority of those surveyed (80 percent) said that they want to live in places with access to a variety of transportation options, such as walking, biking, or taking public transit. Almost as many people (75 percent) stated that they will likely end up living in a place where they do not need a car to get around. This dramatic shift from the traditional suburban desires of wide boulevards, separation of land uses, and isolated residential neighborhoods is likely a result of a growing distaste for our reliance on fossil fuels, as well as a desire to increase community interaction, all while lessening the amount of time and money that Americans spend on transportation. In places like Napa, which was developed in the glory days of the car, there is a long Bike Laneroad to travel before we can expect to meet these desires. However, moments like this, where a town or city is forced to rebuild transportation infrastructure due to a natural disaster, provide us with a chance to make important changes that would be otherwise overlooked for years to come. For example, in the residential area of downtown Napa, where the worst of the damage occurred, the streets were very wide, bare, and gave pedestrians little separation from cars. Given the recent earthquake, why not reimagine these streets, emphasizing pedestrian and bicycle activity rather than allocating all of the space to vehicular use? By adding bike lanes and a buffer zone of drought-tolerant trees, shrubs, and groundcovers on the sides of the roadway, the downtown area could be transformed into a more active and thriving social neighborhood.

Complete StreetThis kind of streetscape, called a “complete street”, encourages people to walk or bike to work and spend less time in their cars. It does this by providing dappled shade, a nice view, and physical protection from traffic, all of which make residents more comfortable and willing to spend time outside on the street.

What kinds of long term changes should we make based on the substantial shift in the younger generation’s perspective?  Future cities based on this mentality will most likely be in stark contrast to our current ones, which are dominated by unfriendly streetscapes and where the average person spends about an hour on the road daily. These cities should place a newfound emphasis on alternative transportation options, including pedestrian streetscapes, bike trails, bus systems, and high-speed rail lines.

At Firma Design Group, we welcome this change in perspective, and strive to contribute to a more effective and pleasant transportation system in all of our projects. We look forward to being part of many great changes in the years to come!

Written by Reed Gordon, Intern 2014 with Firma Design Group and a resident of Napa.

Storm Water Awareness Week – September 22 -26

SWAW Workshops Flyer

Michael Cook, Vice President of Planning & Landscape Architecture, will be making a presentation on Tuesday, September 23rd at 9:30 am as part of the Storm Water Awareness Week.  The presentation will be about Low-Impact Development guidelines and ways to implement design strategies that will meet and/or exceed these guidelines.  Both landscape architecture and civil engineering, including site planning, are taken into account with the presentation.

Synthetic Turf: Friend or Foe?

Bay FriendlyThis posting is excerpted from the Bay Friendly Landscape Designer blog ( written by Corrie Lindsay, Sr. Landscape Architect at Firma Design Group.

My name is Corrie Lindsay. I am a Licensed Landscape Architect and Bay-Friendly Qualified Designer, with professional certifications in irrigation design as well as stormwater pollution prevention. I’ve been designing with Bay-Friendly principles before I knew of the Coalition, because I believe it enables the true beauty of the Bay Area to shine. I do what is right for our environment and I try to share my stewardship with others. But when it gets to the topic of synthetic turf I find it difficult to know which stance to take, particularly considering the recent drought.

The average turf lawn (1,000 sqft) annually consumes approximately 50k – 60k gallons of water. Based upon a 0.3115 gallon. per square foot, for a half inch of precipitation, watered 182 days (every other day). Turf’s thirsty character is why Bay-Friendly offers public “Lose Your Lawn” talks. However, there are recreational situations that require mowed lawn. When we talk about an entire soccer field, we are looking at 75,000 sqft of mowed lawn, which is a staggering 4,263,656 gallons of water per year or 77 typical front lawns. That refers to a typical Kentucky blue rye grass with poor distribution irrigation type numbers, but it’s more prevalent than the average consumer realizes. With the Bay Area ground water table dropping more than a foot every year, snowpackat an all-time low, climate change at work, federal farming water allocations being cut by the government, and our local water boards limiting use & raising rates, Water is no longer a limitless resource. But is synthetic turf the answer?

There are two solutions to the typical water consuming soccer field. Personally, I would design it as a natural turf field, but I would use a lower water use grass species. Rye grass is a cool season turf at an AVG. of 80% evapotranspiration (ETO). A simple warm season grass such as a Bermuda grass is only 60% ETO—a 20% savings in water consumption simply by selecting a different species. There are many native grasses on the market, but not many of them can handle the wear and tear of recreational sports. A possibility would be a fescue blend, which can get you down to 50% ETO or 55% ETO, but it comes with a risk of not preforming well with increased use. So the choice of turf species is really going to depend on demand. The more the turf gets used, the more wear and tear means more resources to repair it. Fertilizer applications to promote growth bumps up a turf’s water consumption. A traditional irrigation system has an average of 50% Distribution Uniformity (DU), but a newly designed low precipitation overhead system can reach an average DU of 70%. This is an additional 20% of water savings. With a professionally designed system and a climate correct grass species a typical soccer field can have a 40% reduction in water use. That is still 1,705,462 gallons of water consumed per year or about 31 typical front lawns.

Synthetic turf could save 1.7 million gallons of water per year? WRONG. That is a common misconception. You have to irrigate synthetic turf. People often overlook this. In the athletic field design world, we call them cooling systems. At extreme conditions a synth turf field can reach upwards of200 degrees Fahrenheit, which will melt the rubber cleats right off your feet. This means a cooling system is required in hot climates. Typically six high pressure water cannons are run for 10 minutes before a sporting event. Each cannon puts out 100 gallons a minute, so in 10 minutes a field receives six thousand gallons of water. Note: this is for extreme situations only and can easily be avoided, especially if the level of play is not highly competitive. It’s more of an issue in the Central Valley as opposed to the Bay Area, but the cooling systems can also serve as cleaning systems. Blood, snot, urine and stomach acids all find their way onto any field and synth fields have to be washed down. The most common practice for a cooling / cleaning system is a hose bib for spot treatments, which from a water use stand point is an acceptable practice. An average hose uses 8-12 gallons per minute, so if someone cleans an area for fifteen minutes they use about 150 gallons. Incidents may be more or less, so for this purpose we will say 150 gallons per day for 365 days, which is 54,750 gallons per year. Compared to the most efficient field it’s a savings of 1.65 million gallons per year, enough to water 30 typical lawns

That statistic led me to second guess myself. Maybe we should be using synthetic turf? If you are as concerned as I am, let me help you take a deeper look into the evolution of the synthetic turf market. Typical concerns included, lead in the rubber fines, chemically produced landfill bound material and silica leaching into the soil. These were all valid concerns in the 80’s when Astro turf was the leading manufacturer. Thanks to the EPA and other regulation boards products now on the market contain 0.00% lead. The fibers are made of polypropylene and/or polyethylene and come in a slit film or monofilament version. These are the same chemical compounds as PVC pipe that you put in the ground for your irrigation systems. Then there’s the infill material; which used to be cryogenic rubber or recycled rubber and silica carbide (sand). This material is still on the market today and can tend to have some small trace amounts of pollutants, but all products meet EPA standards and local testing minimums. There are alternatives, such as cork which has shown to reduce heat island effect by 30%. Rather than chemically produced silica carbide there is a naturally mined replacement called Zeofill which is the geologic mineral zeolite mainly from quarries in Nevada. The manufacturers have come up with a plastic material equal to drip irrigation held down with cork and rock. It has reduced the carbon footprint of a synthetic field production by 66% because the infill is now natural without any chemical production. According to the manufacturer, this type of application would be appropriate up to a high school level.

The other half of this argument is the base preparation. Modern synthetic field base prep is more complicated than building a road and can impact the top 24 inches of soil not including drainage systems. Various synthetic geotextiles and pads are placed in a sandwich with different sized rock fines. For contact sports like football the field has to meet certain impact regulations. The test measures shock-attenuation and is called a G-max test. A synthetic foam or pad is used to obtain lower levels of G-max. This Synth material can be another product that is landfill bound and increases the carbon footprint. An alternative to the shock pad or drainage pad is a 100% recycled material called GreenFoam. Used in playground areas, this pad is recycled from non-contaminated postindustrial cross link closed cell polyethylene foam. The pad can also be recycled post field life, but it comes with an 8yr warranty. The Pad is necessary for playground areas, and rugby & football which have higher G-max requirements. For lower impact sports like soccer, baseball, field hockey, lacrosse or ultimate frisbee the base pad is not required. A field with the correct installation and maintenance of a sand base can easily meet G-max requirements. Native local sand and crushed gravel mixes can create an excellent synth base with a very small carbon footprint impact.

Drainage systems are crucial to the success of any competitive field. Without drainage a field will destroy itself whether it is synthetic or natural turf. The systems for the two separate types of fields are the same. Sand channel slit drains, flat drains, capillary action systems or water re-use for irrigation. The systems can be as complex as you want them, but cannot be compared to each other because they can be used in a natural or synthetic field. The one difference is that natural turf fields have a growing medium with organic matter and are capable of building a healthy living system as opposed to a barren one. During the construction of a synthetic field topsoil is removed, herbicide is sprayed and in the winter expansive soils are lime treated. Lime treatment is the death to all soils. Once a soil has been lime treated there is no rehabilitation. The soil can be re-used as structural fill, but it would require too much to amend it. Lime treated soil loses all its cohesive properties and has a PH around ten. Soil sulfurs can be added to amend the PH back to seven, but without cohesiveness the soil remains inhospitable to organisms and fungi. It’s imperative to avoid lime treating during synthetic field installation. If a project site has extremely expansive soils, please consider a natural turf field. It will be difficult to achieve a competitive (level) field in an expansive soil situation. One of the ways to avoid this is proper construction scheduling. Excavation, drainage and base prep all have to occur without rain. If proper drainage systems and a compacted base are in place before a rain event, the field will not be compromised. Another topic to mention is non-toxic herbicide alternatives. Heavy applications of round-up can be more detrimental to a soil than lime treatment.

In conclusion synthetic turf fields are a solution to water conservation. Applications specifically relate to recreation. From backyard play areas to high school fields, synthetic turf is a solution to consider when the correct products and procedures are in place. Natural turf recreational fields can be designed to minimize water consumption and will reduce heat island effect. The tradeoff is up to the consumer. Project location, conditions and amenities will determine if a project will be synthetic or natural turf. Now I am comfortable designing either type of field because I know both of them have their benefits. Most important to the Bay-Friendly Coalition is to correctly identify your recreational needs. Use the local school or parks facilities for your recreational needs and lose your lawn! If you choose to create your own recreational space please consult a professional and always ask for the latest eco-friendly products.

Firma Design Group hired by Marin County

Marin Independent Journal article, May 2, 2014


The Marin County Board of Supervisors hired a Petaluma firm for $84,700 to provide an audit and assessment of water and irrigation pipelines at Marin County Civic Center, including Marin Center and the fairgrounds.

FIRMA Design Group will provide information that will be used to develop a maintenance schedule and long-term capital renovation program.

Our Vice President, Mike Cook, Registered Landscape Architect and Firma Design Group were hired by the County of Marin Public Works Department to work on the Civic Center Campus Waterline Renovaton Audit & Assessment that will observe, audit and assess the entire Marin County Civic Center, Marin Center, Lagoon Park and the Marin County Fairgrounds.  We are looking forward to working with Marin County Department of Public Works, County of Marin Parks Department and the entire team of professionals at Marin County.

Our team was selected over 3 other firms due to our professional experience, including the fact that we are expert at reviewing irrigation systems and existing landscape.  We are Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditors (CLIA, by the Irrigation Association; we are registered Landscape Architects in California, Nevada and North Dakota; we have an immense amount of experience in auditing irrigation systems to develop recommendations for efficiency upgrades and improvements thus saving water and much more.

Our team will work with County of Marin staff to ensure that the entire Marin County Civic Center campus is or will be using as little water as possible to irrigate the landscape.