Dry Enough For Ya? Drought Coping Strategies
updated: Aug 02, 2014, 1:00 PM
By Billy Goodnick
I’m an “up” kinda guy. Someone asks me how I’m doing, I say “Fabulous, but I’m sure it’ll get better.” But ask me about the water situation and climate change and I’m doom and gloom. Unless you’ve been hibernating under a very hot, dry rock, you know the stats – record low levels in our reservoirs, groundwater over-pumped to keep wine grapes over-plumped, the threat of wildfires in parched chaparral.
You know something’s up when the usually cheery, “It's another beautiful day in Santa Barbara” newscasters lead each broadcast with a drought story. I’ve got to admit, in the short-term, it’s been great for me as a landscape architect. Thanks to years of building my brand here at Edhat, on TV and teaching, I’m “the waterwise guy.” I’ve got more consulting work than can shake a dowsing rod at, almost exclusively for people interested in premeditated lawnicide or looking for ways to cut back on their irrigation. I’d like to say they’re motivated by the desire to do the right thing, but altruism is being trumped by the threat of higher water bills.
That’s one reason I haven’t been informing, entertaining and snarking here at Edhat for way too long: I’ve been shackled to my drafting table. But I’ve been itching for a bully pulpit and Ed’s been kind enough to let me take another shot at this series of articles about water conservation in the landscape. I’ve got a lot to share and hope readers will end up with a few useable tools to put into action, regardless of their motive. So let’s get to it, and please check back every couple of weeks for more.
I’m already hearing, “Chill, dude. Nothing to worry about! There’s an El Niño winter coming our way.” Perhaps, but ask any meteorologist or hydrologist about the accuracy of predicting West Coast weather and watch their eyeballs bounce around like silver spheres in a pinball machine. From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin’s web site: Typical El Niño impacts in the U.S. include above-average rainfall in the West and suppressed hurricane activity in the East, although neither is guaranteed and largely dependent on El Niño's strength (emphasis added). And even if we do get one good winter, it doesn’t absolve anyone from wasting water, especially when it’s so easy to make significant improvements in conservation.
I wouldn’t be asking readers to make big sacrifices unless I were willing to do the same. First, I’ve purchased WITH MY OWN MONEY, two buckets! I keep one in the shower to catch the warm-up water and another in the kitchen sink for when I rinse fruits and dishes. That water goes in the toilet tank right after I remove the lid and press the flush handle. Not only that, but I’ve let my formerly pencil-thin mustache fill in to my nostrils so I don’t have to waste water shaving that quarter-inch gap! (Okay, that’s silly, but I figured it was time to lighten things up.)
So here’s an overview of the topics I’ll be writing about in the next few Edhat posts.
Do we need landscaping?
Why not let it all go to dirt and save oodles of water? There are regions around the world where people do just fine, thank you, without rows of roses or beds of bougainvillea. Well, aside from the aesthetic joy we receive by getting closer to nature – even in its domesticated form – there are practical uses for plants like the cooling effect of shade trees, giving privacy, shielding us from strong winds and helping keep hillside soil out of our living rooms. Plants clean the air, yield food, provide soft places to toss the ball to Biff the Wonder Spaniel and set the kids on the road to the World Cup. Well-informed design can minimize water use and I’ll share some ideas on how to do it.
A Lawnless Life
Lawns don’t belong in our climate. Period. It’s only through massive investment of precious natural resources, an arsenal of air-polluting, noisy, smelly tools and chemical assaults that allow suburbia to emulate the pastoral greenery of the British Isles, where our founding fathers got the idea in the first place. What about at least downsizing or improving the efficiency of the water delivery systems we use? Rebate programs abound for smart irrigation hardware and software. Smart people will come to your home and help you figure it out. What about changing our aesthetic so that a monotonous greensward gets replaced with a diverse palette of pollinator-attracting, low-water-using, Mediterranean climate-appropriate plants? I’ll show you where to find good examples and how to git er done.
Do you have a clothes washer? Where does the water go when you’re done? Most likely into the sewer line, through the processing plant and out to sea. Why not water a lime tree and turn your suds into a refreshing mojito or two using the “laundry to landscape” approach? When rain does finally fall from the sky and runs off the roof and impermeable driveway, is it efficiently and wastefully dispatched into drains and gutters that flow to our creeks, carrying a load of urban pollutants? It makes more sense to naturally filter and retain the water on-site using swales and dry creeks. We’ll explore more.
I’ll be straight up about most of the commercial garden maintenance services – they don’t know jack about water conservation. I watch so-called gardeners holding their thumbs over the ends of hoses, sprinkling water wherever it looks dry and thinking they’ve helped the plants grow. Even now, they wash down sidewalks and have no idea how to manage an irrigation controller. As the person who hired them, shrugging your shoulders and confessing, “I’m not sure if he understands me” is a cop out. You’re a renter and think you have no control? Afraid to ask the management company what they're doing to help conserve water for fear of retaliation? There’s power in numbers. Let’s get the dialog started.
Education is Key
There is so much free information around to help you do your part – water conservation web sites, community programs like the Sweetwater Collaborative and Save the Ocean, and irrigation suppliers who give out reliable, free advice on what works and what doesn’t.
For me, it’s déjà vu. I tip-toed into my career as an educator in 1990 during the last major drought. I watched landscapes turn to dust and a few intrepid folks stick a half-dozen random plants in their front yards, just out of pride of ownership. So I developed my class, “Gone With the Wind: What to do with Your Drought-Stricken Lawn” and packed the adult education classroom at the Wake Center. Over the years, the class evolved, the name changed, I started writing and lecturing – even wrote a book. But the message of creating sustainable landscapes has been unwavering. History is repeating itself, despite complacency from a few wet years and a once-filled Cachuma Lake. This October, Gone With the Wind will be resurrected as a pair of half-day Saturday classes at the Wake Center. Watch for the fall schedule or put a note on your bathroom mirror (while watching your beard and mustache grow) to check the website. There’s even a follow-up class using Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden as an outdoor classroom.
In the meantime, check out the websites listed below, pay attention to how your water use might be improved and if you’re in the City of Santa Barbara, do like I do and report water wasters to 564-6460 or on-line.