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Last week Governor Newsom declared a drought emergency for 39 more counties including Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa and Solano – a designation that now covers 30% of the state’s population. He said that our higher-than-normal temperatures in April and May have caused snowmelt to evaporate or seep into the ground more quickly, dramatically decreasing the runoff to our rivers. His proclamation gives power to the Water Resources Control Board to adopt strategies to conserve and redirect water resources but doesn’t mandate statewide rationing. It will be up to local water districts to determine voluntary or mandatory restrictions.

Most of us remember our last statewide drought, which lasted from 2014 to 2017. Our cars stayed unwashed and many of our lawns turned brown. California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot stated, “It’s time for Californians to pull together once again to save water…. All of us need to find every opportunity to save water where we can: limit outdoor watering, take shorter showers, turn off the water while brushing your teeth or washing dishes.”

Ways to Save Water in Your Landscape

We love spending time in our yards and gardens and we want our plants to stay healthy and beautiful. 

Here are some of our suggestions to save water and keep our landscapes viable:

  • Install a “smart” irrigation controller with a weather sensor that adjusts your irrigation system to water only when needed and early or late in the day when it’s less likely to evaporate. A properly programmed smart controller can save on average over 40% on water usage according to Bay Area irrigation specialist Lori Palmquist. Make sure your smart controller has passed all of the EPA’s rigorous testing to make its Water Sense list at
  • Replenish your mulch to 3” thick to hold in the moisture. Just 1” of mulch lowers your plants’ water needs by 25%.
  • Cover your pool and hot tub to prevent evaporation and having to refill.
  • Reduce or remove your lawn and replace it with low-water and drought tolerant groundcovers.
  • Convert your lawn area to another use such as a gathering area with DG or paving.
  • Use basins to capture the water used rinsing vegetables and pour that on indoor and outdoor plants – including your vegetable garden.
  • Consider installing a grey water system to relocate grey water to non-edible gardens.
  • Convert some of your landscape’s irrigation zones from high or medium water plants to low water CA natives or Mediterranean plants that can survive and even thrive on less water once established. (Even drought tolerant plants need regular water until they become established – a year for most new plants and 2 to 3 years for trees.)
  • Check out the Bringing Back the Basics free virtual tour, which ends Sunday May 23rd, for ideas of beautiful low-water CA natives that are thriving in our area. Susan Friedman’s CA native front yard will be featured on Sunday at 11 am. You can sign up for the tour and get access to the recordings of previous Sundays as well as great resources by registering at:

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