The most sustainable option is the landscape that's so well adapted to your conditions that it requires no irrigation system at all. The fully sustainable landscape, like wild natural systems, thrives on natural rainfall only. A completely sustainable landscape certainly is possible anywhere on this planet. Lovely native plants grow pretty much everywhere, and nobody waters wilderness; rainfall is sufficient for the most beautiful places on earth. Check out Chapter 9 and Part V for advice on creating a no-water native landscape.
Even native landscapes require supplemental irrigation to get them established. This may be as simple as hand-watering if there aren't too many plants involved and you're careful to apply enough water to irrigate the entire root zone. For larger plantings, consider a temporary drip system with an emitter or two at each plant (see "Drip irrigation: A smarter way to water"). You can use this temporary system during the first year or two and then remove it. Be sure to save it to use another time or pass it along to others.
Some people opt for a permanent irrigation system in case of drought — even native plants suffer when faced with inadequate rainfall. It's your choice, but remember that an irrigation system comes with unavoidable environmental impacts (see "Deciding Whether to Use a Permanent Irrigation System"). If you can get by without one, so much the better.
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