Feb 4, 2009

Not Quite The Apocalypse… Yet

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.


Anonymous said...

My East Bay garden is small and hasn't had a lawn for some time, but in October I had a contractor audit and clean up my irrigation and also installed an ET controller. The biggest advantage of the audit was the discovery of a slow leak, so I'm sure that had a bigger effect than the new controller, but the net result is my water bill dropped from an average of 450 gals a day the previous year to less than 150. I agree with your post - well worth the time and effort both for the environment and your pocketbook.

John said...

Susan, that's an amazing savings! Congratulations on your foresight. And it's not just older homes or yards that can benefit like this: my "new" home in Palo Alto is the poster child for careless construction, and the irrigation system was both poorly designed and badly fitted... both of which a good contractor solved in a day.

outofdoors said...

Actually, I think some of our drought-tolerant native sedges (Carex) grow fine with the same watering regimen as Ceanothus...

John said...

@outofdoors, you're absolutely right! Thanks for setting me straight — clearly I sacrificed accuracy for alliteration. In fact, Carex don't even need to be native to tolerate drought — C. pansa, C. buchananii, even my favored child C. testacea can all do quite well in dry conditions (and combining any of those with Ceanothus sounds quite nice, actually). What are some of your favorites?