Water Conservation Garden Shows Off Watershed Protection

In a place not too far away, there’s an elfin cottage made from bales of hay, its roof a garden of sprouting succulents. Out front, a trickle of water burbles from a globe-shaped fountain before slipping into the ground.

This is the newest exhibit at the Water Conservation Garden at Cuyamaca College. First it enchants; then it teaches.

To the County’s Watershed Protection Program, which funded the display, the peaceful nonprofit garden is the perfect place to inspire residents to prevent pollution in our oceans, creeks and streams.

The garden-topped cottage and the fountain, which is surrounded by water-permeable concrete, show off building materials that reduce the water that runs off from neighborhoods and picks up pollution before ending up in the ocean. Two new leaf-shaped signs explain exhibit’s lessons.

In place of a hard roof that would repel rain, the cottage’s succulent garden roof absorbs and uses water. And the dusty-red permeable pavement around the fountain allows water to percolate into the soil instead of coursing into the gutter.

“So the water that drains there renews the water table instead of picking up pollutants in the storm drain,” explained Marsha Cook, with the County’s Watershed Protection Program.

The Watershed Protection Program is charged with educating the public and reducing water contamination in the region. Because we live in a watershed, rainwater and other runoff like landscaping irrigation drains into creeks, rivers and ultimately the ocean, picking up sediment, trash and toxic pollutants as it goes.

The display is designed to inspire homeowners, builders and kids to think about how manmade structures contribute to runoff.

“The idea is that the more hard surfaces we build, the more water runs off into the places we don’t want it to,” said Marty Eberhardt, Executive Director of the Water Conservation Garden.

Eberhardt said homeowners and landscapers looking for ideas are some of the most frequent visitors to the 5-acre Water Conservation Gardens.

She said the new exhibit promotes “best practices,” but adds that you don’t have to invest in permeable concrete. Gravel, stones, and other ground coverings can also be effective and less expensive than permeable concrete in preventing runoff.

Eberhardt said the new exhibit expands the 12-year-old nonprofit’s teachings beyond its original message of water conservation. The cottage not only addresses water pollution, she said, it highlights sustainable design in general. The plant roof cools the structure, conserving energy, and its hay bale skeleton, covered by hard stucco walls, shows off a renewable and insulating building material.

The Water Conservation Garden also offers numerous workshops and classes, and the County’s Watershed Protection Program recently funded eight gardening classes that emphasize pollution prevention.

For more on the Water Conservation Garden, including classes, hours of operation, and address, visit