Peterson AFB: A changing landscape

(U.S. Air Force photo)
A mixture of mulch, rock and native grasses are being installed around the west gate visitors center as part of a xeriscaping project to remove 40 percent of the Kentucky Bluegrass there. The low water vegetation will reduce water usage in the area by 30 percent or 1.3 million gallons annually and is part of the wing’s continuing focus on resource conservation.

From 21st Civil Engineer Squadron

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Residents and visitors at Peterson AFB are seeing a change in scenery, as the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron makes landscaping changes that more closely match the Colorado setting.

Areas around base traditionally landscaped with Kentucky Bluegrass, a type of sod, are being replaced with mulch berms and vegetation native to Colorado. With a continuing focus on resource conservation and tighter fiscal environment, a move toward low maintenance landscaping is a sensible decision. Not only will a new approach to landscaping on base conserve water, save in maintenance, time and costs, but Peterson AFB will more closely reflect the Colorado countryside.

The 21st CES is using several approaches to achieve the changes, all of which are designed to save resources.

Xeriscape

Xeriscape is an attractive alternative to vast expanses of sod and involves adding native vegetation to landscape an area. This type of design is not only an ideal option from an aesthetic viewpoint, but is also more sustainable. Common types of vegetation that have been incorporated to the Peterson designs include ornamental grasses, Ponderosa and Pinon pines, a variety of junipers and Russian Sage. Vegetation used in this type of landscaping is more likely to thrive with minimal maintenance and irrigation because the plants are growing in a native environment. Costs associated with mowing are also drastically reduced because most of the vegetation is native grasses and mulch. In addition to being environmentally friendly and cost effective, the change toward Xeriscape landscaping will provide base visitors with a unique, local experience.

Drip Irrigation

Another technology supporting the landscaping effort at Peterson AFB is the drip irrigation system. This system serves the same irrigation purpose as a traditional spray system but is more efficient since it delivers the water directly to the roots of the plant. This direct delivery eliminates the chances that wind will shift the direction of the water and cause the water to end up on the sidewalk instead of the vegetation. Additionally, the drip irrigation system stops water intended for irrigation from evaporating. A traditional spray sprinkler system delivers water at a 65 percent to 75 percent efficiency rate whereas the drip irrigation delivers water at a 90 percent efficiency rate. At Peterson two acres of mulch and flower beds have already been converted to this type of system.

Base Centralized Irrigation System

It is not enough to simply upgrade the irrigation systems from spray to drip, any type of system must also be monitored closely to ensure vegetation is appropriately watered. The base centralized irrigation system serves that purpose by monitoring 95 percent of the landscape at Peterson AFB from a single computer. The system was installed in 2010 and monitors the weather conditions as well as the amount of moisture lost in plants through a process called evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration is largely influenced by weather conditions. For example, on a hot, dry and windy day the evapotranspiration amount will be high, which is an indicator for the system that the amount of irrigation will need to be increased. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the system will know to decrease or completely shut off the irrigation system on a day where precipitation levels are elevated. Every type of landscaping, whether it is grass or a planting bed, has a predetermined ideal amount of irrigation. When the maximum level of moisture is reached, the computer monitoring these levels will shut off the irrigation system which prevents overwatering.

Landscape Improvement Projects

Focus: The West Gate

As a primary entry point for many visitors and employees to Peterson AFB, and the only 24 hour access point, it is imperative the west gate be well maintained. Consequently, the area surrounding the gate is currently undergoing a six phase landscaping project to be completed mid-spring. The various phases include improvements to areas on both sides of the fence line as well as a large area around the visitor center and parking lot. This xeriscaping focused project aims to remove 40 percent of the Kentucky Bluegrass in the area and replace it with mulched berms and low water vegetation. This project alone will reduce water usage in the area by 30 percent or 1.3 million gallons annually.

Focus: Peterson Boulevard

The landscaping along Peterson Boulevard was accomplished several years ago but is a benchmark design for xeriscape. The project involved removing sod and replacing it with mulch berms and native grass requiring little to no water. With rising water costs and uncertain future budgets, it makes sense to incorporate xeriscape at every possible opportunity. This project eliminated the usage of 75 million gallons since its completion.

Focus: Base-wide Bluegrass Reduction

Peterson AFB is currently developing additional projects to reduce the amounts of high water turf areas throughout the base. These efforts will concentrate on areas of low visibility based on appropriate and functional uses of bluegrass turf. The ultimate goal is to reduce water usage and associated maintenance costs while not sacrificing the natural image developed over the years and quality of life benefits that everyone has come to enjoy on the installation.

Peterson AFB is arguably one of the most picturesque bases in the Department of Defense so it is not only essential to provide cost effective maintenance, but to increase sustainable design as we move forward. Maintaining the landscape around the base will guarantee that Peterson AFB remains the best place to work, live and visit while simultaneously supporting America’s most innovative and disciplined space wing in dominating the high ground.

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