Posts tagged ‘Sustainability’

Water Conservation at Smithsonian Gardens

Join us this Saturday, May 9th, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m for a celebration of “Water, Water, Everywhere” at Garden Fest in the Enid A. Haupt Garden. In this blog entry Sarah Tietbohl writes about just one of the many ways we try to conserve water at Smithsonian Gardens.

Moongate Fountain in the Haupt Garden

Moongate fountain in the Enid A. Haupt Garden

When I first started at Smithsonian Gardens in 2010 I was assigned the job of cleaning the Moongate fountain in the Enid A. Haupt Garden.  I was excited about this task as I would have an opportunity to learn to use a new piece of equipment and keep cool during the hot summer months.  I estimated that the fountain would need to be cleaned maybe once a month. With the pond open between April and October, that would total seven times a year. That spring, the cleaning schedule started out at once a month.  As the season went on and the temperatures climbed into the 90s, I noticed that the fountain was growing algae at a rapid pace. It turned the water a sickly slimy-green color. That once-a-month cleaning turned into scouring once or twice a week! That season, I ended up cleaning the fountain well over twenty times. The next year it was the same story.

Moongate fountain in the Haupt Garden

Sarah explains her environmentally-friendly method for maintaining the Moongate fountain.

After the summer of 2011, I really started to think about all of the water, energy, and time it takes to clean the Moongate fountain. I started to gauge the amount of water that was being used in one year to clean and fill the fountain. I calculated that it takes 2,300 gallons of water just to fill the fountain each time it is cleaned, plus 200 gallons or so to clean it. I decided to research environmentally-friendly products that would reduce the amount of algal growth, thereby cutting down on the amount of water needed to re-fill the fountain after each cleaning. Fewer cleaning sessions would also result in less emissions (and noise) generated from the power washer that runs every time the fountain is cleaned. I started experimenting with a non-toxic black pond dye. Adding black dye to the fountain reduced the amount of sunlight that was able to penetrate the water, which in turn reduced the algal growth. I found the dye to be very effective and talked my colleagues into using it in the fountains in the Ripley and Folger Gardens as well. Thanks to the black dye solution, Smithsonian Gardens has reduced fountain water use from 60,000 gallons a year to slightly less than 22,000 gallons- a terrific way for Smithsonian Gardens to employ a sustainable alternative in its operations.

-Sarah Tietbohl, Smithsonian Gardens 


May 7, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Exploring DC Water

Smithsonian Gardens’ Green Team had a unique opportunity to visit the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant (AWTP) owned and operated by Washington, D.C.’s Water and Sewer Authority or DC Water.  Serving the District and nearby suburbs, the plant takes in more than 330 million gallons of raw sewage daily.

We had the pleasure of meeting with General Manager George Hawkins before getting a tour of the facility.  After just a few minutes spent with Mr. Hawkins you could immediately appreciate not only his vast knowledge but his passion for what he does.  He touched upon several aspects of DC Water, from its many large construction projects to its water treatment process  to sustainability.

General Manager George Hawkins details various aspects of DC Water.

General Manager George Hawkins details various aspects of DC Water.

The Washington Aqueduct provides the public water supply system serving Washington, D.C., and parts of nearby suburbs and is run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  DC Water takes wastewater and runs it through cleaning processes using mechanical, chemical and biological methods like screening, aeration, polymer use and bacterial digestion.  Once cleaned to EPA standards, this treated water is then put back into the Potomac River and the cycle begins once again.

One way DC Water is becoming more sustainable is with a huge construction project to further the biosolids management program with a Thermal Hydrolysis Process (THP) and digestion facility.  Once completed, the project will not only be the largest of its kind in the world, but also save DC Water around $10 million a year in energy costs and cut its usage by a third.  (DC Water is currently the largest consumer of electricity in the District.)  It will also reduce the amount of carbon emissions by approximately 50,000 metric tons yearly.  DC Water hopes to have the process up and running by July 2014.

George Hawkins actively looks for ways for DC Water to be more sustainable instead of simply taking the tried and true (easier) way out. Currently, any excess water generated during a large rain event that the facility can’t handle overflows into the city’s rivers.  DC Water’s Clean Rivers Project is a colossal undertaking that will help alleviate that issue; a huge cistern-like cavity is currently being built to gradually treat storm-water that overwhelms the system.  George also sees other ways of dealing with excess water, such as a push for individuals and the government on all levels to build bioswales, green roofs and rain gardens to help mitigate the problem.

The Smithsonian  Gardens Green Team tours the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The Smithsonian Gardens Green Team tours the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant.

One way the public can help be more water smart is by drinking more tap water instead of using bottled water.  To this end, DC Water is directly involved with a project called TapIt that is also found in other cities.  TapIt enables you to locate eateries (via internet search, iPhone app, or restaurants labeled with a TapIt sticker) that will let you bring your own water bottle and fill it for free.

DC Water hopes someday to become net zero for energy consumption meaning it would produce energy equal to or more than its daily needs.  With future plans to double the Thermal Hydrolysis Process and digestion facility and talks of installing solar panels, DC Water thinks it can achieve this lofty goal.  If everyone uses water more consciously and tries to alleviate polluting through trash and water runoff we can make D.C.’s rivers a major highlight of the city.

-Matt Fleming, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist 

December 3, 2013 at 6:30 am Leave a comment

Sustainable Lawns at Smithsonian Gardens

Smithsonian Gardens continues to make significant improvements to its lawn maintenance program, which in turn has contributed greatly to institution-wide sustainability efforts. Since 2008 Smithsonian Gardens has reduced its fertilizer runoff and pollution to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, reduced pesticide applications, and reduced the total number of mowings each year. This year we are experimenting with more environmentally-friendly lawn maintenance equipment and collaborating with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension to evaluate the use of different types of grasses that require less maintenance.

Smithsonian Gardens is asking its contractors to switch to more eco-friendly mowing equipment.

Smithsonian Gardens is asking its contractors to switch to more eco-friendly mowing equipment.

In 2010, we started reducing lawn mower emissions by asking our mowing contractor to switch their riding mower from gasoline to propane. Our mowing contractor has switched all of its mowers over 42 inches from gasoline to propane powered. In addition, the contractor has agreed to replace all of the gas-powered handheld equipment it uses (backpack blowers, stick edgers, and string trimmers) with battery-powered equipment. The contractor hopes to replace its 21-inch gas-powered mowers with battery-powered mowers this summer thereby eliminating all gas-powered lawn equipment used by the contractor.

Evaluation of various types of grass the the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse Facility.

Evaluation of various types of grass at the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse Facility.

Smithsonian Gardens and Maryland Cooperative Extension have teamed up to evaluate different types of grasses that require less maintenance. Fine fescue grasses have a reputation for being environmentally friendly as they require less water, fertilizer and–most important–less mowing. Last fall, we planted 10 x 10 foot plots of creeping red, chewings, sheep, and hard fescue grasses at our Greenhouse Facility in Suitland, Maryland. All the grasses were planted in the existing soil as well as in compost-amended soil to determine the best way to establish them as a lawn. The goal of this project is to determine which types of fine fescue grasses will work best in our climate. If they require less maintenance and can still be considered an acceptable lawn, we hope to use these types of grasses in the future.

Both of these initiatives have made Smithsonian Gardens’ lawn care program substantially more sustainable and do much to contribute to a healthier Smithsonian community and environment.

-Graham Davis, Horticulturist

July 10, 2013 at 8:00 am 1 comment

Sustainability at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Smithsonian’s newest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), broke ground just a couple months ago and is progressing quickly towards its goal of opening its doors in 2015. The museum plans to become LEED-certified which is a rating system that helps identify and implement measurable green building design. The museum is right on track with its building requirements. Though LEED certification has become more and more common, there still is a distinct missing piece in the true sustainability of a building through the LEED certification system, however. Experts have determined that for a building to be truly sustainable, the rating system needs to consider its surrounding landscape.

NMAAHC Construction Site

NMAAHC Construction Site

In order to address this problem, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden partnered together in 2005 to come up with a solution to this missing component in LEED certification. These organizations collaborated with experts to address site design issues relating to soil, hydrology, vegetation, material selection, and human health and well-being to develop their own sustainable rating system on sites alone. This rating system is known as the Sustainable Sites Initiative or SITES for short.

SITES is a distinct and different rating system from LEED. SITES, like LEED, fosters the conservation of resources by promoting things like using recycled materials or solar energy, but it takes it to another level by going beyond the building’s exterior and rebuilding critical ecological capacity on sites. Sustainable buildings can only be truly ‘sustainable’ with healthy built landscapes. For example, a building using water captured on site or vegetation to reduce heating and cooling requirements can only happen with a built landscape design integrated into the building’s design.

NMAAHC will set out to secure both LEED building and SITES certifications. This is very exciting as currently there are only three SITES-certified projects in the U.S. If NMAAHC makes the cut it will set an example as an important landmark for site design across the nation by following the Sustainable Sites Initiative.

Liz Carroll, Landscape Architecture Intern

July 13, 2012 at 1:00 pm 3 comments

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