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Is California’s drought over?

Technically, no. California has more evaporation than precipitation – we’re always in drought. The good news is that we are in notably less drought.

With the deluge of December rains and the record Sierra snowfall, our reservoirs are once again starting to refill. When the U.S. Drought Monitor released its January 11th map, there was NO “exceptional” drought in the state — something that hasn’t happened since December of 2020. Additionally, less than 2% of the state is in the “extreme” drought category. That leaves the state in a more “normal” moderate to severe drought.

Maps showing California drought levels of September 2021 and January 2022.
The U.S. Drought Monitor is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Map courtesy of NDMC.

Unfortunately, the seasonal outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center is for another drier-than-normal rainy season for most of California.

For those of us who have lived in the Bay Area for a while, we are used to the rain/drought cycle of the Mediterranean climate we live in: wet and green generally December through March, dry and brown the rest of the year. With the continued trend of dryer winters and hotter summers, we are likely to stay in at least “severe” drought conditions for some time.

If you have not lived in the Bay Area for some time, the lack of summer rain and the concept of water rationing may be a bit confusing. Fear not! You can have a happy life in drought-state California!

Happy Drought Living

As California’s state of drought seems to be a growing cause of concern, even the natives are looking for ways to increase their water conservation. The nice thing is that simple changes can make a big difference – especially inside your home.

  • Fix drips. It’s more than just a drop every now and again. Over time, even now and again will fill a water glass, then a sink, bathtub, swimming pool, and so on.
  • Stop the running. There are places in the world where there is too much water, where getting water out of the way is real concern. None of those places are in California. Keep your water from running free while brushing your teeth or hand-washing dishes. And during a shower is an inappropriate time for a half-hour meditation session.
  • Speaking of showers, keep them short and install low-flow shower heads. No groaning! You can get low-flow massage shower heads – they work great.
  • Let technology work for you. Just as shower heads have improved, so have toilets and water consuming appliances. When it’s time to replace or upgrade go for the lowest flow/consumption you can.

Happy Drought Environments

Property owners can make huge improvements in conservation. On average, residential landscaping consumes about 30% of household water use. Imagine the amount of water – and money – a person could save by reducing their property’s consumption! Winter/early spring is a great time to make water-saving landscape improvements to our properties. Just a few measures you could take:

California Native Garden by Susan Friedman Landscape Architecture
  • Quit watering the pavement! Repair irrigation leaks and fix overspray onto paved surfaces. Better yet, retrofit your water hogging spray irrigation system to low flow drip irrigation for plants and MP rotor emitters for lawn.
  • Add a new “smart controller” that automatically adjusts run times based on live weather data or shuts off automatically during rain. Not only does this save water, it can save your investment in your landscaping.
  • Reduce your lawn area or remove lawn altogether. Irrigated lawn is the #1 highest water use plant you can have in the landscape. And the state may even pay you to remove it!
  • Convert your higher water use plants like Azaleas, Hydrangea, Roses to low water use plants like Manzanita, Salvia, Ceanothus and other California Natives – they were born here, they know how to survive on less water. Or use Mediterranean plants like Lomandra, Tea tree, or Grevillea that also thrive in climates like ours.
  • Mulch! Spread 3” of organic mulch over soil surfaces to reduce root zone evaporation, reduce soil loss through erosion, reduced weed growth, and adds nutrients to the soil as it decomposes.

California Native Gardens do more than reduced water consumption. Native Gardens create native wildlife habitats for pollinators (bees, butterflies, hummingbirds), larger birds, and amphibians – all signs of a lively and healthy garden!

Creating Happy Drought Environments

If you’re thinking about starting your own low water use landscape project here are some great resources:

  • Bloom! California: This is a great resource for general learning about Native plants, along with plant care, inspiration videos and plant nursery locations to buy the plants.
  • EBMUD is a great resource along with lawn and irrigation conversion rebates available.
  • Another great resource for inspiration is the Bringing Back the Natives garden tour and website. On this site, you’ll also see pictures and videos that showcases four of our designs in San Ramon.
  • Bay Friendly Garden/Stop Waste:
  • The California Native Plant Society has an in-depth plant catalog called Calscape filled with plant ideas and guides and other great resources.

Happy Gardening!!

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