Charriss York works for the AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Sea Grant, two Texas A&M programs focusing on water conservation research.
She took me through the Ghirardi WaterSmart Park in the heart of a League City subdivision. She pointed out one difference to other parks or gardens: The flowerbeds here aren’t raised but lowered, which helps to improve water quality.
“They’re a bowl-shaped depression,” York said. “We’ve brought in special soils. We’ve mixed in compost and sand and expanded shale with our native clay soils to help improve infiltration. So we’re actually trying to get the water to come in to the flowerbeds and to soak in, so that the micro-organisms and the soil can help break down pollutants.”
Underground pipes then channel the naturally cleaned water into the storm drain system.
Another feature of the park is the metal tank that catches rain water from the roof of a pavilion. That water is then used to irrigate the plants.
“That reduces the need to use city water for things like that,” York said. “And there’s also been studies that show rain water is actually better for plants because of all the micro-nutrients and such that are in there. That helps your plants grow better.”
Texas A&M approached League City about developing the park three years ago. After some back and forth in the city council over funding, the park was finally approved last year. It opened in March, thanks to grants from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Galveston Bay Estuary Program.
“We want to develop parks that not only are meant for the residents around for this particular park,” said Chien Wei, League City’s parks director. “But we want to develop park that can be visited all around the city. It’s got educational components, it’s got recreational components. So, all we’ve gotten is positive feedback from our citizens on this particular project.”
The League City WaterSmart Park is the first of its kind in the Houston area.
York hopes this low-impact development concept is adopted not only by other municipalities, but also individual homeowners.
“Rain gardens are things that could very easily be retrofitted,” she said. “You collect water from parking lots or roadways, from the rooftop at someone’s house. Rainwater harvesting, we have a large tank but you can start with something as small as a 50-gallon barrel at your house and use that water to water your flowerbeds.”
A spokesperson of the city of Houston’s Parks and Recreation Department said parts of the low-impact development principle are currently used at several Houston parks.