Water in the West Partner Website

Our Water, Our Home

Part 2: Experts Weigh In

by Cassidy Mantor

Last season, we began a discussion of Water in the West, an objective look at how we manage the West’s most valuable natural resource. We studied water-tracking resources ranging from the U.S. Drought Monitor to more localized water-smart programs in our community and concluded that with minor modifications to our home systems and landscaping, we can have a great impact on the overall health of our environment. Now, with warmer months approaching and peak water use on the rise, we are delighted to bring you a second installment of the discussion, this time with local experts weighing in.

Sun Valley’s arid mountain climate presents unique challenges in landscape design, and a common thread among our experts is the need to collaborate. That collaboration results in great accomplishments, from leading by example with the choice to revegetate with native plants instead of a lawn, to implementing smart technology and underground irrigation on a municipal level. Our hope is that after reading these pages, you will feel empowered to make one or two of the small changes our experts suggest, making your dream home that much more sustainable for generations to come.


WHJ is devoted to facilitating meaningful connections that strengthen our built landscape and enhance our greater community. As more people make the mountain lifestyle theirs, we believe it is our responsibility to educate as well as provide inspiration. As part of our ongoing look at water in the West, WHJ spoke with water use experts and compiled a list of the top five best practices for smart landscaping that will lead to sustainable living. We hope these points help get you started.

1.Start with a Survey

The survey helps develop an understanding of each site specifically in both the regional and micro-climate context. Is there bedrock? Is there surface water or groundwater? Does your neighbor have a spring that would only be discovered once you’ve dug into your foundation? Knowing the topography of soils helps build an understanding of the micro elements of the site.

2.Proper Site Planning & Landscape Design

Soil is diverse in Idaho. It can range from sandy loam that drains water so that it disappears to clay that holds the water and creates issues for plant growth, to bedrock where we have to import soil. Landscaping strategies may consider surface water flow and how much water plant and root structures will use on the site. Some properties have surface water flow that can be integrated into the actual design either as a water feature or to retain water to help recharge a surface or subsurface soils on the site.

3.Minimizing Impact to Native Vegetation

Ethical landscape design attempts to minimize impact to native vegetation and – for places that have been disturbed – planting native materials that over time will not need irrigation beyond natural rainfall. The native understory of a forest might not look like the traditional green lawn we’ve been trained to appreciate, but the reality is that the root structure offers immense benefits to the environment, both the soil and the wildlife. If we remove it, it forces us to ask where will the rainfall go? Will water run downhill to your neighbor? Design often necessitates a layered approach and unless there is a specific intended use for flat turf such as a soccer field, putting green, or play area for the kids or grandkids, why not make it a native grass area? Beyond water, what you plant can reduce how much fertilizer and ongoing mowing and maintenance is needed.

4.Finish Surface Treatments

Mulch and planter beds hold in moisture. A shredded cedar mulch is a strong weed deterrent. Landscape design programs may involve a combination of soil, plants, and the water it takes to sustain the plants. Instead of spraying overhead water, which is inefficient and also leads to weeds, drip irrigation can direct water to each plant. Partnering with a landscape architect means you can easily create a healthy environment from both the vegetation standpoint and also how much maintenance is required to sustain it.

5.Plan Early

Proper planning combined with education on both budgetary and environmental considerations leads to the most successful designs. When you’re building a home, having a landscape architect on board early in the design process to work with the architect is important because they can share their knowledge to help make the best design for the site and that frequently saves money and time down the road. Design elements to consider are locations where a lush site full of native plants is appropriate, and where to develop focal points with high-impact perennial beds in main outdoor living spaces. It’s a matter of redesigning a space to get everything on your wish list and also applying best practices to ensure that the environment you’re building will thrive from a long-term practicality standpoint.



BYLA Landscape Architects’ philosophy hinges on the idea that the landscape and gardens should be outdoor sanctuaries filled with different emotions, cleverness, and excitement. With offices in Bozeman, Montana, and Ketchum, Idaho, they work collaboratively with architects and engineers to finesse the landscape elements with artistic compositions. BYLA’s hardscapes and softscapes center on principles of practical, aesthetic, horticultural, and environmental sustainability, and they aim to create a peaceful coexistence among the elements that is enchanting and thought-provoking. Their work is best illustrated by their recent work on a private residence built into an arid hillside.

The Project

BYLA was the landscape architect responsible for integrating a new house into an arid hillside in Ketchum, Idaho. The clients wanted to create outdoor living spaces that would allow them to move through the surrounding landscape and experience its seasonal beauty. BYLA’s main objective was to ensure the house felt cozy and snug within the land. The challenge was getting outdoor access to the front door, which was located more than 20 feet above the street. BYLA resolved this issue and designed a beautiful environment that put the home at ease within the terrain.

Artful Grade Transition

Complementing the lines of the home’s modern architecture, BYLA designed a clean and contemporary terraced entry that brought access to the front door. “We integrated a set of walls and transitional program spaces to set up the site and rebuild the landscape experience up to the house,” explains Brent Jacobsen, BYLA Studio Director, Senior Landscape Architect. “Our primary goal was to mitigate any construction impacts that could cause erosion or loss of the character of the hillside. We used boulders to retain grade and filled in the gaps with native planting to make a journey that is both relational to the surrounding vegetation as well as the steel, concrete, and basalt used on the home.” Overall, BYLA successfully integrated the house into the hillside landscape in a way that was both functional and beautiful.

Integrating Native Landscape into a Modern Design

BYLA revegetated over 19,000 square feet of grassland on this property. “Key species we used involved Antennaria neglecta, Aquilega coerulea, Artemesia nova, Balsamorhiza sagitata, Carex praegracilis, Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus, Chrysothamnus nauseosus, Erigeron speciosus, Eriogonum umbellatum, Festuca idahoensis, Geranium viscosissinum, Leymus cinerus, Linum lewisii, Monarda fistulosa, Penstemon strictus,” Jacobsen shares. While the project used a lot of natives, BYLA worked closely with the landscape contractor Native Landscapes, to integrate low-water traditional perennials such as Artemisia to enhance the garden. Their design strategy balanced creating a textural experience with the native palette and providing human-scale interest with the home’s modern architectural style.

“We integrated a set of walls and transitional program spaces to set up the site and rebuild the land-scape experience up to the house. Our primary goal was to mitigate any construction impacts that could cause erosion or loss of the character of the hillside.”

– Brent Jacobsen, Studio Director, Senior Landscape Architect, BYLA

A Custom Water Feature with Unexpected Benefits

On a different project, BYLA custom-designed a water trough to provide some close ambient sound to reduce noise from an adjacent highway. While it was a mountain highway that was not too loud, it was enough to disturb the peace and quiet. The trough has a small waterfall that also creates a great visual. “What worked here was the soft warm grey of the concrete with the sage green of the willow and soft purple of the veronicastrum,” Ben Young shares. “It was unexpected how much calm the plantings provide visually.”

Water-Smart Choices Enhance Sense of Place

“Rather than considering water-smart choices as a limiting factor, we believe that using native plants and regionally-adapted drought-tolerant plants can help us create site-specific landscapes that improve a client’s connection to nature,” Jacobsen says. When ecologically adapted to work together and horticulturally sound, this blend can lead to great outcomes. “These choices also benefit long-term operations on the property and welcome wildlife,” he adds. BYLA approaches each project as unique and works to develop an understanding of their clients’ goals and aspirations. That inquiry helps the team determine how best to integrate water conservation approaches into the site experience, enhancing how each house will best be at home on its property and how each client will feel most at home in their distinct space.

Eco Irrigation

“Making smart choices with your personal irrigation system doesn’t require much effort. Sometimes, having the ability to manage your irrigation system whenever you need to is all it takes to become more mindful of water usage.”

–Reide Whitehead, Owner, Eco Irrigation

Eco Irrigation is a water conservation business that designs and manages smart irrigation technology to maximize water savings. By using modern technology to adjust and personalize a given landscape, they offer an opportunity to be more environmentally sustainable with landscape water use. Their scope of influence and ability to apply best practices to a vast range of clients is noteworthy, from reducing water consumption in the highest-water-using house in Ketchum to partnering with the City to engineer a more efficient municipal irrigation system. Owner Reide Whitehead gives an overview of four recent projects that define their business.

Project 1: Prioritizing Sustainability

Eco Irrigation is proud to collaborate with clients who prioritize sustainability in their projects. The Quigley Farm Development Project exemplifies this commitment, as it aims to establish a community structured around sustainable economic, social, and environmental principles. In addition to creating water use guidelines, Quigley Farm offers educational opportunities for its community, including listing native plants and soil composition information to make it easier to bring sustainable practices into daily life. “One notable aspect of this development is the implementation of a recycled water system to treat and reuse wastewater for irrigation on the property,” Whitehead shares. His company designed and installed an irrigation system that aligns with Quigley Farm’s goal of conserving water for landscape irrigation.

Project 2: Residential Retrofit

Eco Irrigation recently completed a retrofit project in Ketchum for a client whose home lived in infamy for holding the record of the highest water use for a single-family home in the City of Ketchum. Following a quick irrigation audit, they found that the property’s original design and installation was well executed. However, there were areas of outdated equipment and room for more precise water management. Eco Irrigation replaced old sprinkler heads, nozzles, and valves with modern counterparts. Whitehead shares, “Initially, the property consumed an average of 5 million gallons annually. Upon completion, we reduced this usage to 2 million gallons in the following years without compromising plant water supply.” Their current objective is to further reduce consumption to under 1 million gallons for the upcoming season.

Project 3: Underground Drip Irrigation

Eco Irrigation is currently collaborating with the City of Hailey to minimize overhead expenses and decrease water usage in the Woodside area. Their proposal suggested employing underground drip irrigation for watering the grass and trees in the vicinity. “With 100% subterranean drip we remove overspray onto sidewalks and roads, minimize evaporation, and reduce maintenance requirements,” Whitehead explains. Presently, they’re in the trial phase, with the City conducting a test run on a designated section. He adds, “We’re already witnessing promising outcomes in terms of decreased water consumption and anticipate progressing with the project in the near future.”

Project 4: Installing a Smart Irrigation System

Another retrofit project involves an apartment complex that had the highest water use in Elkhorn. The client’s objective was to decrease water usage without needing a complete overhaul of the existing irrigation system. This project presented a unique challenge, with specified restrictions and a set budget. To address this, Eco Irrigation is actively implementing smart irrigation system technology. “We’re consolidating 12 irrigation controllers into one centralized location, utilizing cell modems for wireless communication between them,” Whitehead says. Additionally, they’re installing water meters equipped with the capability to detect system breaks and automatically shut down in case of leaks. Currently, the system operates on a 24-hour cycle, but Eco Irrigation is aiming to significantly reduce watering frequency. They will also have the ability to remotely monitor and manage the entire irrigation system from their computers, offering greater control and efficiency.

“Making smart choices with your personal irrigation system doesn’t require much effort,” Whitehead explains. He shares that homeowners can make a significant difference by swapping out an outdated irrigation controller for a smart one, potentially saving tens of thousands of gallons per year. “Sometimes, having the ability to manage your irrigation system whenever you need to is all it takes to become more mindful of water usage.”