Roots & Wings Online

SMWD Garden, a Certified Wildlife Habitat

Santa Margarita Water District completed the 1/2 acre WaterWorks Garden in the spring of 2020. The garden was designed with the goal of creating a landscape both the public and wildlife can enjoy.

Shortly after the completion of the WaterWorks Garden, the District applied to become a Certified Wildlife Habitat – a distinction commercial and residential landscapes can achieve by pledging to provide a habitable environment for birds, butterflies, and neighborhood wildlife. SMWD’s internal design team had to incorporate five design principles to become certified by the National Wildlife Federation:

  • Feature plant material that provides food for foragers;
  • Supply a clean drinking water feature for wildlife;
  • Provide covered shelter;
  • Maintain nesting sites; and
  • Incorporate sustainable gardening practices (composting and integrated pest management)

The SMWD WaterWorks Garden is situated adjacent to the Arroyo Trabuco Creek within the greater San Juan Watershed— the District’s gardening practices have the potential to affect downstream users and wildlife. SMWD’s Water Efficiency team has developed a team of professionals dedicated to manual weeding practices and a no herbicide policy. During the first stages of planting when the site was being prepared, the team opted out of applying pre-emergent chemicals in preference for a more preventative approach—no mass rototilling of the soil, maintaining a healthy mulch layer of 2-3”, cutting down invasive weeds before they go to seed, and watering more efficiently. Even when the snails came out to feed this summer the team worked in shifts to manually remove them from plants and altered watering practices. The team noticed that by not poisoning the snails they could become a viable food source for other birds and wildlife. One year in, the experience with sustainable gardening has been promising and the team looks forward to learning from and sharing more about the WaterWorks Garden. 

Plan to visit the WaterWorks Garden which is located at 26111 Antonio Pkwy., Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688 which is home to Santa Margarita Water District's headquaters. Customer service may be reached at (949) 459-6420. Website: