A Drought Friendly Design

Joe Kabriel

With water supplies depleting at record rates, homeowners in Malibu are answering the call to help reduce water usage in the face of one of the state’s most severe droughts.

One local, Jan Burns, has done her part to reduce water usage by transforming her landscaping into a xeriscape design — a design that reduces or eliminates the need for water from an irrigation system.

 Joe Kabriel, a professor, artist and landscaper, helped Burns with the design and physical labor of the project.

The first step was to allow the lawn and Juniper trees to wither away in order to make way for a new, drought-conscious redesign.

“We redesigned the yard because of the drought and because of the fact that [the area] runs on water wells. Watering a lawn just didn’t make sense anymore,” Burns said.

The theme of environmental consciousness extends all the way back to the construction of the home itself. The Decker Canyon home was originally built in the 1970s with recycled material and was designed by Phil Wadsworth, who was a student of Cliff May — a well-known architect who helped develop the post-war California Ranch style.

With the front landscaping, Kabriel wanted the design to compliment both the home and the surrounding natural landscape.

“We went ahead and used a lot of material from local quarries and tried to plant native drought-resistant plants,” Kabriel explained of the landscaping’s redesign.

One of the key pieces of the yard — a fountain made from a boulder with a drill hole in it — was found in a local quarry that was only 15 minutes away from the property.

According to Kabriel, one common mistake homeowners make when trying to create a xeriscape landscape is a lack of thoughtful design.

“In doing this project I spent a lot of time driving around looking at other xeriscape designs,” Kabriel said. “A lot of people bring in some rocks and just dump them. The cool thing about this project is the uses of all the different rocks and the design elements. We have eight-inch quarry rocks, crushed gravel and boulders.

“When you don’t have plants to contrast colors and textures and the rocks aren’t varied, it gets boring very fast.”

Los Angeles County Waterworks District 29, the district that serves Malibu, is tasked with reducing the district’s water usage by an average of 36 percent. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, outdoor watering accounts for nearly 30 percent of water usage by a household.

Water conservation and environmental responsibility were ultimately what spurred the project on, and Burns admitted that it was difficult letting go of the image of an ideal lawn.

“Everyone is used to grass,” Burns said. “Truly, it was hard to give up green grass, but we are living in a drought and a hazardous fire area. Those factors all contributed to why we had to do it, but it’s hard for people to let go of grass.”

Homeowners in Malibu continue to struggle to conserve water. According to figures by the LA County Waterworks, District 29 reduced its usage by 19 percent in October 2015 compared to figures from 2013. David Rydman, District 29’s acting district engineer, told City Council that may be due in part to “continuous or intermittent leaks” in irrigation systems — an issue Burns will not face.

“This summer, some houses in the neighborhood [had] their wells run dry,” Burns explained. “Those homeowners had to buy water by the truck full, and have it delivered and pumped into tanks on their property.

“We all have to use water carefully because we run the risk of having our wells run dry and having no water at all — especially in this drought,” Burns said.