Category Archives: Water Savings

Landscape Design + Irrigation = Savings

water-sense-logo-designThe partnership of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) WaterSense and Smart Water Application Technologies (SWAT)  are focused on managing water efficiently.  No matter which state we live in, we should all be concerned with water shortages and do our best to manage water efficiently.

SWAT is an international initiative to achieve efficient landscape water use through the application of irrigation technology.  SWAT provides product testing results to the public by identifying, researching and promoting technological innovations and related management practices that advance the principles of efficient water use.

Irrigation  experts draft protocols which define scientific methods to evaluate whether products meet established standards for efficient water-use. SWAT then formulates performance testing plans for different categories of irrigation products.  Third-party testing agencies evaluate whether irrigation products submitted by manufacturers actually save water.

WaterSense uses testing data to certify products that meet certain requirements.  They partner with irrigation professionals. manufacturers, retailers, distributors, home builders,  and utilities to bring WaterSense concepts to communities throughout the country.   The WaterSense labeled products and services are certified to save at least 20 percent less water; save energy and perform well, with the emphasis on performance.

With this partnership focusing more efforts on outdoor irrigation products the number of WaterSense-certified, weather-based irrigation controllers have doubled since last year.

You can contact Firma Design Group’s Vice President, Landscapeiaauditorlogo Architect and Licensed Landscape Irrigation Auditor, Mike Cook to  design a landscape plan and irrigation plan which will get you the most out of these products.  Mike knows where and what to plant for your specific climate and property. Mike knows the importance of planting, maintaining and developing a landscape which will have a positive impact on your water use and give you a long lasting beautiful landscape.

Mike can be reached by phone at (707) 792-1800 or email at

JULY = Smart Irrigation Month

SIM-Logo-ColorWe should have already installed a Smart Irrigation Controller.     It’s not only a greener idea, but these systems are convenient, save water and save money.

Smart Irrigation Systems are automated systems that can monitor sun exposure, temperature, wind,  soil moisture, evaporation and plant water use.  They automatically adjust your watering schedule while protecting your landscape investment.

Mike Cook, our Vice President here at Firma Design Group, is a  Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor (CLIA), #00008031.  He can ensure you will get the most up-to-date, “truly smart” irrigation system, which fits your specific needs.

Being a Certified Landscape Auditor enables one to quantify and analyze landscape irrigation water use, make maintenance recommendations, determine irrigation uniformity and efficiency, develop  irrigation schedules and manage overall irrigation water use.  With a continuing education requirement to maintain one’s license, CLIA’s are well versed on the most up-to-date products and procedures.  To read more, click here.

To  contribute toward a truly sustainable landscape, below are additional considerations to explore to complement your smart irrigation system:

  • Rainwater Harvesting.  By capturing and storing rainwater you will have a supplemental water source for irrigating a landscape.  There are many forms of harvesting rainwater along with local regulations.
  • Green Walls.  A vertical, vegetative “living wall,” a green wall can be freestanding or part of a building and can help reduce the overall temperature of the building, improve the aesthetics and can even aid in water reuse, purification and retention.
  • Fertilizer Injection Systems (fertigation).  Fertigation is derived from the combination of fertilization and irrigation, this allows you to fertilize and irrigate a section of turf in one simple step, making it easier for nutrients to infiltrate plant root zones and eliminating the need for watering above and beyond the irrigation system’s scheduled program run time.
  • Audit your Sprinkler System.  Hire a CLIA to conduct an IMG_7038irrigation audit and uniformity test to verify areas are being watered evenly and appropriately, and make necessary adjustments.


To read more on Smart Irrigation systems, click here.  You can also contact Mike Cook at (707) 792-1800, x103 or by email at



Saving Water is…

Always a Must.


Even after  very heavy precipitation this winter, which exceeded  our target supply, we should always keep in mind how important it is to conserve.  On April 7th, 2017, Governor Brown lifted the Drought State of Emergency in most of California, which was implemented back in January 2014, while  stating, “Conservation must remain a way of Life.”

Here at Firma Design Group our Landscape Designers can help plan and design a sustainable landscape by introducing smart plants, which adapt to our climate, promote plant health, all the while, drastically reduce their water needs.  Our Designers are well versed in water smart plants.  Having the right plants and planting guidance can save in upwards of 70% – 90% of landscape irrigation water. Here in Sonoma County we are lucky to   have many Water Smart Plant Nurseries, Click Here, for your Water Smart Plant Guide.

Now how about a challenge?  We want to see how many gallons of water you save in a month.  It’s easy, just select a few water-saving tips from Sonoma-Marin’s water-savings calculator to start saving more than 20 gallons per day, both indoors and outdoors. Click Here, for the calculator.  For instance, did you know that just by shortening your daily shower by 2 minutes will save you 5 gallons?  Or, by fixing a leaky toilet will save you 30 gallons? Having a water-efficient drip irrigation system, 20 gallons or more?  Having a smart irrigation controller installed, 40 gallons?  A lot of ways to save a valuable resource. Make sure you comment the amount of water you saved.





A Vision Alive Today


Vera Schultz – a woman ahead of her time earned the title of “First Lady of Marin”. Vera not only was the first female member of the Marin County Board of Supervisors, she was a true pioneer for women’s rights in Marin and a trailblazer in the fields of urban planning and environmentally sensitive design. Vera established Marin County’s Parks and Recreation Department, as well as, the Public Works Department. So when it came to having enthusiasm for Frank Lloyd Wright’s radically modern design vision for the Marin County Civic Center she stood her ground in the 4 year “battle royal”. And today the Marin County Civic Center is considered one of the finest public buildings in the United States.

In 2015, Firma Design Group was retained by Marin County’s Parks Department to develop a Landscape Master Plan, coherent of the initial vision of Frank Lloyd Wright and Vera Schultz, of fitting into the natural environment. With as much enthusiasm as Schultz and Wright, Firma Design developed a master plant palette and micro-climate palettes with special plants that can thrive in Marin County. Firma Design Group is working further on developing the overall Landscape Master Plan for implementation in the coming year. We were also contracted to map and assess the existing irrigation system and landscape plantings which along with the proper plant species have increased the system’s efficiency. To read more on our state of the art GIS mapping, click here.
To read the MARIN September 2016 article,click here.

Keeping up with Water Awareness!



May was Water Awareness month and to keep up with the ongoing awareness of conserving water in June, we are highlighting some key points as a reminder and update.

The Press Democrats Tuesday, May 10, 2016 issue under the front page header “State weighs easing drought cuts” talks about how the days of when residents were legally able to hose down driveways or have lawn sprinklers running on rainy days, are over. This article highlights some of the specifics as to how these drought cuts will affect Californians on pages A1 continued on page A2. Governor Jerry Brown also comments on the executive order issued permanently banning water-wasting practices. Brown said, “We know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life.”

The State of California Office of Administrative Law stated, “This emergency regulatory action is effective on 5/31/2016 and will expire on 2/28/2017. The Certificate of Compliance for this action is due no later than 2/27/2017. To prevent the waste and unreasonable use of water and to promote water conservation, each of the following actions is prohibited, except where necessary to address an immediate health and safety need or to comply with a term or condition in a permit issued by a state or federal agency:

(1) The application of potable water to outdoor landscapes in a manner that causes runoff such that water flows onto adjacent property, non-irrigated areas, private and public walkways, roadways, parking lots,. or structures; (2) The use of a hose that dispenses potable water to wash a motor vehicle, except where the hose is fitted with a shut-off nozzle or device attached to it that causes it to cease dispensing water immediately when not in use; (3) The application of potable water to driveways and sidewalks; (4) The use of potable water in a fountain or other decorative water feature, except where the water is part of a recirculating system; (5) The application of potable water to outdoor landscapes during and within 48 hours after measurable rainfall; (6) The serving of drinking water other than upon request in eating or drinking establishments, including but not limited to restaurants, hotels, cafes, cafeterias, bars, or other public places where food or drink are served. and/or purchased; (7) The irrigation with potable water of ornamental turf on public street medians; and (8) The irrigation with potable water of landscapes outside of newly constructed homes and buildings in a manner inconsistent with regulations or other requirements established by the California Building Standards Commission and the Department of Housing and Community Development. (b) To promote water conservation, operators of hotels and motels shall provide guests with the option of choosing not to have towels and linens laundered daily. The hotel or motel shall prominently. Display notice of this option in each guestroom using clear and easily understood language. (c) Upon on this subdivision taking effect, all commercial, industrial and institutional properties that use a water supply, any portion of which is from a source other than a water supplier subject to section 864.5 or 865.of this article, shall either: (1) Limit outdoor irrigation of ornamental landscapes or turf with potable water to no more than two days per week; or (2) Target potable water use reductions commensurate with those required of the nearest urban water supplier under section 864.5 or, if applicable, section 865. Where this option is chosen, these properties shall implement the reductions on or before July 1, 2016. (d) The taking of any action prohibited in subdivision (a) or (e), or the failure to take any action required in subdivision (b) or (c), is an infraction punishable by a fine of up to five hundred dollars ($500) for each day in which the violation occurs. The fine for the infraction is in addition to, and does not supersede or limit, any other remedies, civil or criminal.”

RESERVOIR LEVELS: As of May 16th, reservoir storage in Lake Sonoma is 99% of capacity and Lake Mendocino is 98% of target water supply storage.
RAINFALL: Rainfall this year to date (October 1, 2015-May 15, 2016) is 32 inches.
Current water supply levels can be found on the Sonoma County Water Agency’s website.

Irrigation Tips

Water Smart Irrigation Tips

Santa Rosa Water offers free watering and irrigation tips each week. Recommendations are based on data from local weather stations.



Sonoma County Water Agency:

City of Santa Rosa:

California State Water Resources Control Board:

Celebrating World Landscape Architecture Month!


The career of being a Landscape Architect is one that plays a huge role in modern civilization through transforming outdoor areas, public and private, into aesthetically pleasing and useful spaces.  April was World Landscape Architecture month and to celebrate, we are reflecting on the history, current industry, and the career of being a Landscape Architect.  This post is dedicated to taking a look at what it means to be a landscape architect and how to get into the field that is in need of a more diverse community of architects.

How long has landscape architecture been a part of society?  The first gardens existed in 10,000 BC and from there on, civilizations in the early world began to create enclosed open-spaces as gardens.  Tending to the land for more than just farming use, countries all over began detailing their own landscape to incorporate the natural land to create lavish scenery.  Around 15 BC, Roman architect, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio wrote “De Architectura” which translates to “Ten Books on Architecture.”  The books covered various topics such as town planning, qualifications of an architect, building materials, temples, civil buildings, pavements, aqueducts, sciences that have influenced architecture, and more.  When urban planning took off in the 19th century, landscape design was a crucial part of the developing cities.  Urban planning and landscape design emerged together from there and have since gone hand in hand within cities and towns to encapsulate the local characteristics of the community and culture.


Villa Mimosa, Calistoga, California

Landscape architecture renovations provide the opportunity to recreate outdoor areas to maximize utilization of space and resources while making it aesthetically unique within its own location.  In America today, the industry of landscaping architecture brings in approximately 77 billion dollars in revenue per year.  Home gardening, horticulture, and micro-farms have risen as trendy hobbies to maintain at home.    Environmentally-friendly trends have caught on amongst the public over the past few decades to encourage recycling and attention on our dwindling supply of natural resources.  Drought awareness has become a priority for Californians over the past four years, and with it, water conservation measures have been emphasized as a priority amongst landscape and irrigation systems.  Residents, businesses, and municipalities have sought out landscape renovations to upgrade their look as well as their ability to be environmentally-conscious while conserving natural resources.

To be a Landscape Architect, one must have a passion for creativity, style, and a greater appreciation for the outdoors.  Landscaping Architects are used in many areas including: private residential projects, public parks, commercial and municipal locations.  Duties of our designers are: project estimates, designing and planning of areas, and management of needed consults and installation crews, while working directly with clients to manage projects through completion.  Skills a future landscape architect should harness include: critical thinking, design and drawing skills, computer-aided design (CAD), excellent written and communication skills; and mathematic and scientific knowledge as applicable.

Pool House

Mayacama Residence, Santa Rosa, California

Prerequisites for becoming a landscape architect include holding either a Bachelor’s of Landscape Architecture (BLA) or a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture (BSLA).  It is possible to go for a Master’s in Landscape Architecture, but more important than that is receiving a Landscape Architect license through the State.  There are other certifications available to add on top of a license, such as ones obtainable through the International Society of Arboriculture and the Irrigation Association.  These certifications allow landscape architects to have more control over different aspects of their projects that they would otherwise need to seek outside consulting for.

Landscape architects are encouraged to join the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).  Members are able to be a part of the national landscape design community, keep up on new policies, regulations, design styles, and be a part of a network that includes architects from all over the nation.

In celebrating the history and career Landscape Architecture, Firma Design Group hopes to shed light on the amazing work that is done in public spaces while simultaneously taking action to implement environmentally-conscious upgrades.  We hope we’ve inspired those who may be interested in Landscape Architecture to pursue it as a career to serve the future needs of our communities.


American Society of Landscape Architects:

International Society of Arboriculture:

Irrigation Association:

Landscape Architecture. (2016, April 25). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.  Retrieved April 25, 2016, from

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.