Since I wrote last summer about the threat of drought, things have gotten worse — much worse. The Sonoma County Water Agency has announced mandatory usage cutbacks of at least 30%. In the East Bay, EBMUD has called for 19% reductions, and implemented rate increases for all usage. Bolinas has already emptied one of its two emergency reservoirs, and is limiting household usage to 150 gallons per day (repeat offenders will have their water supply cut off). The Sierra Nevada snowpack is at 61% of normal, and the state's largest reservoir, Lake Shasta, is at 31% of capacity.
So what's a gardener to do?
For starters, kill your lawn. Turf is by far the thirstiest aspect of your landscape, and even if the water is available it's going to cost you an arm and a leg to keep it green.
Next, audit your landscape water usage. Hire a certified irrigation contractor or irrigation auditor to ascertain whether your system is using more water than necessary. Are there leaks in your pipes? Could your run times be shortened? Could those spray heads be converted to drip? The investment will pay for itself.
While you're optimizing your irrigation, optimize your plantings as well. Make sure your plants are grouped together by water need — ferns with dogwoods, sages with grasses, Carex well away from Ceanothus. While you're at it, take another look at some of your thirstier specimens: do you really need those hydrangeas and roses?
Finally, when every drop counts, it makes sense to save every drop you can, and a rain-catchment system is one of the best ways. We've seen the traditional rain barrel any number of different ways, but there are a few other options available now, such as the Rainwater Hog which can mount either vertically against a wall, or horizontally beneath a deck.
Don't forget, Santa Clara County is offering rebates for water-thrifty planting and irrigation updates. But whether you take advantage of the rebates or not, the time to make your garden water-wise is now.