Tuesday, December 31, 2013

California drought

110220_dead_palms2013 will enter the history books as the driest calendar year ever in California. The numbers are astounding—and sobering: Since January, Los Angeles has received only 3.6” of rain (average: 14.91”), San Jose 3.8” (average: 14”), San Francisco 5.59” (average: 21.45”).

Normally December is one of our wettest months; this year it’s been one of the driest on record. The snowfall in the northern Sierra Nevada, where most of our water supply comes from, has only been 10% of normal. A persistent high-pressure ridge stretching over a large swatch of the northern Pacific Ocean has been diverting the usual winter storms away from California. Meteorologists see no change for January, which means that precipitation will continue to be far below normal. And even when we finally see some rain it won’t make much of a dent in the water levels of our reservoirs because the soil will suck up most of the moisture, resulting in very little runoff. We need a series of very wet storms to bring us back to a semblance of normalcy.

The odds of this happening are not good so gardeners need to be prepared to conserve water, either because of mandatory water rationing or simply because it’s the right thing to do. With a garden full of drought-tolerant shrubs and perennials, not to mention succulents, I feel I’m fairly well positioned. However, there is one major weak spot in our garden: the bamboos. While the bamboos in the ground should be OK with a little less water than what they’ve been used to (I already cut back in 2013, both in terms of watering and fertilizing), the potted bamboos will be pushed to the brink. As it is, the dozen potted bamboos that are left—from a peak of maybe 20 a few years ago—haven’t looked all that great since I reduced the amount of watering. Instead of the lush green screen I had envisioned, I see brown leaves and even dying culms. An even more draconian watering regime will mean the demise of many of them. Maybe that’s inevitable, considering that our climate barely supports potted bamboos. I’ll need to come up with alternatives to plant in all those containers. More potted agaves?

 

The precipitation numbers for Davis are as follows:
Average annual precipitation: 19.6”
Total precipitation for 2013: 5.22”
Percent of normal: 26.6%

9 comments:

  1. Hope rains will come your way soon. Drought, such a serious issue and a major concern. At least your planting scheme is leaning more towards drought tolerant now. Perhaps use drought tolerant shrubs instead of bamboos for pot culture to be used as screening.

    Wishing you all a fab 2014 btw :)

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    1. Happy New Year to the two of you as well!

      Regarding the drought: Many California homeowners aren't facing reality. They still blissfully overwater their lush lawns and annual borders. I'm afraid the only thing that will force a change in that behavior will be painfully high water rates.

      But mainstream nurseries and garden centers need to do their part as well. Instead of focusing so much on water-guzzling cottage garden plants they need to expand their selection of xeric plants so consumers can get used to them.

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  2. Yikes, that's scary Gerhard. I've read many a California blogger saying how little rain they saw in 2013 but your the first to really help me understand what that means.

    They're saying we've had the 2nd or 3rd driest December on record, and we are way behind for annual rainfall plus the snowpack is miserable (the skiers are unhappy). Still we are by no means in a drought.

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    1. You're lucky in Portland. Even if your rainfall totals go down a bit, there will always be enough water for the kind of garden you have.

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  3. Another blogger mentioned these stats yesterday, and tho I knew we were low in numbers, it's still shocking to learn just how low. I've been preparing the garden for such an eventuality, but it doesn't make the situation any less saddening. We've got six 50-gallon rain barrels to deploy, which doesn't save much, just the proverbial drop in the bucket. They take up so much room! Underground cisterns need to come back in style. Here's to a wetter 2014!

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    1. We have one 55-gallon rain barrel. I wish we had room for more, but we just don't. I agree with you, they take up so much space!

      Underground cisterns are the way to go. In Australia (another country constantly beset by drought) cisterns are required by law. If we had a 1000-gallon cistern that catches graywater from the kitchen and bathroom sinks, we would be able to irrigate our garden without needing any additional water. But for that to happen I'd have to buy a plot of land in the country and start from scratch :-(.

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  4. Incredible! Didn't you mention the price of water for you were going to double or triple in 2014? Just crazy.

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    1. Our water rates went up 5% in May 2013 and will go up another 20% this month. By 2018 they will have tripled. This is to pay for a new water project that will bring in water from the Sacramento River to replace our current supply from aging wells. However, a law suit has been filed to appeal the legality of this new rate structure. Still, water will become an expensive commodity around here.

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  5. Today we had just enough moisture to wet the sidewalk. I bet it wasn't even measurable. Pretty scary if we don't get some soon.

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