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Birds At an Aquatic Habitat: What Changes Could You See After Storms?

In Santa Clara county where the Silicon Valley is located, Los Gatos Creek is one of the few urban streams that remains relatively intact throughout countless developments in the area during the last 200 years.  The stream originates in the Santa Cruz Mountains, flows into the Vasona Reservoir, winds through a small valley, and clears into the Guadalupe river that finally empties into the San Francisco Bay.  It is one of the many steams and creeks in the vast Guadalupe River watershed, and a habitat for many wetland species. Los Gatos Creek Map Watersheds are critical habitats for birds, fishes and other animals that live a wetland environment.  200 years ago, before any of the modern developments, the creek must have been a heaven for the birds and fishes.  At the time, all kinds of birds could be seen flying in the sky and resting in the creek; fishes swimming through the creek in massive numbers. Unfortunately, in the 200 years since, “about 90% of California’s original aquatic habitat has been altered or destroyed through human activities”, more than any other states in the nation.  What we see in Los Gatos Creek today is one of the 10% that remains. Los Gatos Creek Today many of the parks like Los Gatos Creek often provides the only refuge in urban areas for native wetland species.  They have been living here for tens of  thousands of years.   During migration season some species of birds will also come and use the place as a resting area, critical for their survival.  If the park no longer exists, or its environment dramatically changes, it can be devastating for all the birds that have been depending on it for so many years.

Bird sightings at normal time

The birds that can be seen most often are Canadian goose. Los Gatos Creek Canada Goose Great egret and snowy egret can also be seen from time to time. snowy egret This was in the migration season of November.  These birds were taking a rest before they flew out to their next destination.

Bird sightings after storms in 2016 winter

After an epic, historic 5 year drought, starting from late fall of 2016, California went from extremely dry to extremely wet, with record breaking rainfalls.   Heavy rains pummeled from late fall all the way  into spring, in some places floods and mudslides occurred.  At Los Gatos creek, parts of the trail were also flooded several times. Flood The new “stream” in the previous trail was quickly discovered by some lovely “guests”.  They came in swiftly, playing in this new playground of theirs, relaxing, fishing and enjoying a good meal! Feeding Same as these ducks, quite some birds found out the new water and came right in.  Here is normally what you would see when you cross a bridge to enter the trail and look down at the water .  The right side of the creek bed is completely dry.  On the morning after several heavy storms in January, though, the whole span of the creek bed was fully filled with flood water.  On the muddy yellow water you could see these two little birds, guests that were not seen here before. Creek Two Birds They are hooded mergansers. After you walked a bit more along the trail, there was another surprise waiting.  A Double Crested Cormorant was “relaxing” on a tree, which was never seen here either.  She streatched her wings, turning her head from left to right, right to left, then left to right….with the kind of excitement of a baby.  In the second photo, the two small birds could also be seen swimming in the same place. Bird Bird 2 The cormorant really liked it here. In the next 2-3 weeks you can see her swimming, resting and relaxing in this particular spot. Bird Bird Bird Even more surprises ahead.  After you went further down the creek and came to this spot – Look!  literally a bird’s paradise.  So many birds, of different species, gathered here, rested in this comfy patch made from branches and grasses brought by the flood water.  The patch was right in the middle of the creek, providing the birds all they needed: food, shelter, and a fun place to hang out.  After just one  day, though, the patch was gone, so went all the birds.  Such a view was not seen again. birds after storm A great blue heron, and a great egret: Birds In the next 2-3 weeks when it continued to rain hard, more birds usually unseen could be found at the creek. Bird Bird 2 couples of the mallard duck.  Look at that beautiful blue stripe. A big group of the American coot, on the flooded trail.  While coots can be seen often, such a big group was only seen during this time. birds A big bird was seen here at the tree right beside the trail, towards the end of the rainy season. She really enjoyed the tree and stayed on it for hours, ignoring all the people who passed by on the trail.  She was seen only once.  This is a black-crowned night-heron. Bird on a tree

Birds, habitat, and water

The heavy rains at Los Gatos Creek gave us a valuable opportunity to observe how a sudden increased level of water would mean for the creek habitat, and the ecosystem.  If we just look at the birds, the answer is clear: they loved all that water.  While we don’t have a count for the birds’ numbers during the storm time, the number of species, and the size of the bird groups we saw, increased quite significantly.  This happened with just 2 months of storms, one could only imagine how it would turn out if the same rains continued for a longer time. In the last 5 years, when California experienced the epic drought, the birds, and the whole ecosystem at the aquatic habitats must have been very stressed.  They lost a big chunk of their habitat; at the habitats that did remain, water was way more scarce than usual.  As Professor Peter Moyle from University of California, Davis pointed out, “Drought is hard enough on us, and on farmers, and cities, and so forth.  It’s really hard on the fish, really hard on the aquatic and riparian systems.”

Continue with water conservation

Water will just become more scare in the future, relative to our demand for it, with population growth, economic expansion, and climate change.  How can we manage and use it , so that we not only will have enough for ourselves, but also for the birds and fishes in the aquatic and reparian habitats? While all kinds of solutions are being explored, one thing is clear: we must continue to conserve water,  which is the easiest and cheapest solution among all.  In California, we use half of our water in outdoor landscaping.  If we can all switch to water efficient gardening, we can surely save a significant amount of water.  As we see in the picture, when we save water with drought tolerant plants like these Mexican bush sages, we no only save for us, but also those birds in the creek. Lake  

A Purple Dream – From Start to Bloom

When this garden was transformed from a weedy turf to a water efficient garden, not only would it save water, but a seed of a purple dream was also planted.  When the garden was being planned, the idea was to have this dream place with the purple splendor.  Lavenders lined two complete sides of the garden, as well as the parking strip.  When the garden was finished, everyone was eager to find out: when will the purple walk come into life? weedy turf a garden with lavender a walk with lavenders on both sides

Growth in Spring

Spring 2017 was a season blessed with heavy rains.  After the garden was done in early spring, in two months of time, the plants had grown a lot. lavenders grew up While the lavenders had not bloomed, rockroses put on their pretty pink flowers, giving the garden that “pop”, just in time when the pink and red blossom from camillas receded. Rockroses are drought tolerant, require only little water once established. Planted in early spring, the blossom broke out after just 2 months.  Tough yet pretty, this is a great choice for a water efficient garden. rockrose   These other plants also grew a lot and bloomed. Yellow Bloom

Purple Blossom in Summer

With waves of heat the summer arrived.  How are the lavenders?  The purple that everyone have been waiting is here! purple blossom Most lavenders had their first bloom, just couple months after they were planted.  Not a full blown purple walk yet, but very clearly heading there. purple walk Walking on the sidewalk, you can smell that strong aroma of lavender’s. They remind you of those wildflower meadows out in the country under the blue sky. Meanwhile, you can see dozens of bees flying in the bushes, making the buzz sound everywhere they go.

Great for Bees

Like many other native and drought tolerant plants, lavender is a bee’s magnet. Bees love to feed on them, better yet, they bloom for a long time, usually from summer to early fall, which means they can provide food to the bees for a rather long period.  As bees are on on a decline, planting more bee friendly plants like lavender has become more important. bees on lavender Lavenders are drought tolerant.  As a matter of fact, they don’t like to stay in wet soils.  Over-watering is one of the most common reasons that lavenders die.  Using drip irrigation, just provide enough water when first planted, then water it occasionally once established – they can grow fast and well. drip irrigation

A Purple Dream With Less Water

When the garden was built, it was designed to be water efficient: drought tolerant plants, drip irrigation, automatic controller with rain sensor.  The garden complied with all the requirements of Santa Clara Water District’s Landscape Conversion Rebate program and received the rebate upon finish. In just several months, this garden grew from a collection of small plants into one filled with purple splendor and color.  It adds this nice view to the house, realize the “purple dream”, filled the air with the pleasant lavender aroma.  Better yet, all these were achieved with much less water than what were required for the lawn before.  Although California is no longer in a drought,  one big lessen we learned was that water is valuable, and we must cherish and conserve it to the best we can. As Gov. Jerry Brown said, “Water conservation must remain our way of life.”  As ourdoor watering typically accounts for half or more of a household’s water use in California, building a water efficient garden can save us a significant amount of water and go a long way towards that goal.        

How Does Tokyo Make Its Space Green

We all know how important it is to have trees and plants in the cities.  They absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, filter harmful particles from the air, lower temperatures – just to name a few.  With population growth and climate change, it is more important than ever to have more trees and greenery in the city.  Tokyo, with a population of over 9 million, is one of the most populous cities in the world.  How does Tokyo make its city green?  Some observations from a recent visit provides some interesting lessons.

Create more space for plants

In big cities, every inch of land is valuable.  Everyone wants more trees and green, but where to plant them?  Well, turns out, if you can’t do it on the ground, you can do it elsewhere.  Take a look…

In an office building

In this building, you don’t see a glass wall at second and third floors, instead you see…trees!  Yes, trees, tall and dense as they block out most of the outer spaces at these floors.   Only from the 4th floor up will you see the glass walls .  This is a green building, literately. a green building 1   a green building 2

On the wall

This is a big train station, with a bullet train station inside.  The foot traffic can be heavy.  Look at this stair – the wall is completely covered by plants. a green wall under a stair Opposite the station entrance, is another wall, also covered by plants. Over the wall is a busy boulevard with heavy traffic, but you almost can not feel it, as here on this side all you feel is quiet and comfort. a green wall

On the base of a flower bed

Not just a flower bed, but one with a green “skirt”?  Nice.  Planting at the base of the flowered bed adds more plants and green to the space, enhance the view, make the air fresher and environment quieter. a green flower bed

A space of trees doubles as…

In Tokyo, trees don’t simply line the streets, they are used in quite some other ways.  Here a space with trees and plants is used as…

A rest station

This space is in front of a shopping plaza, just off a busy boulevard in Ginza, Tokyo.  Here the colorful sitting blocks in the trees and plants provide a perfect rest area for shoppers and people who walk by. a rest station

A part of art

You will find this beautiful view at a street corner right across an entrance of the Imperial Palace and the moat surrounding the palace. Here, the tree is the centerpiece of this very elegant piece of art. According to the information bulletin, “These camphor trees (ones shown in the photo) have been on the site since the 1970s, long pre-dating the construction of the building.  During construction they were planted elsewhere, and then replanted…as a symbol of the building.” The 2 jade boats on the water is a throwback to the days when “Tokyo was once a city where boats piled the moat as a waterway”.  Trees here have become an integral part of the environment, and history. a tree as the centerpiece At the train station shown above, the green wall is like a piece of art too. Look at the all the greens of different shades, heights and textures. a green wall 3

Bicycle Friendliness

Tokyo is a city quite friendly for bicycles.  In some parts of the city, the bicycle lane is not in the streets, but on sidewalks.  The bicycle and pedestrians lanes are distinguished by the different colors on the floor – red for pedestrians and grey for bicycles.  It is safe and easy to ride a bicycle here. bike lane on sidewalk There are parking areas for bicycles on the sidewalks, near a train station, etc. bikes in Tokyp street Using bicycles, instead of cars in a city can reduce carbon emissions, help with the air quality and reduce the heat island effect.  Facilities like these make it easy for bicycling to be a way of life. In summary, while Tokyo is a big metropolitan city of over 9 million people, aboundance of trees and greenary makes it a much cleaner (air) and quieter city than you would imagine for such a big population.  Trees are critically important for a city’s environment, we can plant more of them in the place we live in too – in the streets, parks, and our gardens.  

A California Native Garden: How Long Does It Take to Bloom?

When a garden is installed, naturally, everyone hope all the plants will establish and grow. Specifically, everyone wonder: how long will it take to bloom?  Last fall, in the blog post “From Brown to California Native Charm” we talked about how a brown lawn was transformed into a charming garden with many California native plants.  It looked great when finished, but when will it become a garden full of flowers? A water efficient garden just installed

Winter Time

2016 was an unusually wet winter, with copious amount of heavy rains. At night, the frost was quite brutal to the new plants.  Luckily, with the exception of two to three plants, all were live and well.  The plants did not grow too much during the whole winter time, about 5 months after they were planted.

a water efficient garden 2 months after install
Winter, in the rain
Spring Time

When spring came, it surely looked different!  Colors started popping up, became bigger and denser later in spring.

a water efficient garden in spring
April
a water efficient garden in spring
May

There are 3 prominent California native plants in the garden : Matilija Poppy, California Golden Poppy,  and Monkey Flower, which all bloomed at this time.  Others like Hot Lip Sage, Blanket Flower, and Primrose also bloomed wonderfully. CA native plants in bloom

Summer Time

As summer approached, temperatures rose sharply.  Several heat waves hit the San Francisco bay area, with temperature going up to as high as over 90F.  How did the plants hold up?  Did they fizzle? Not a chance!  With the hot weather all the plants remain strong.  As if spurred by the heat, the California native Red Buckwheat exploded into this splendid blossom, like a dancer in hot pink bursting onto the stage. The blanket flower also expanded its early colors into full blown spectacle.  A garden full of colors finally came, just 8 months after the plants were first planted! a water efficient garden in summer

From First Planted to Bloom

As this garden illustrates, for a water efficient garden with mostly native and drought tolerant plants, it only takes 7- 8 months to go from newly planted to full bloom.  In this case, if you install a garden in fall, you can see the first blossom next spring.  Isn’t that nice? The plants can really grow during this period of time.  In winter they did not seem to grow much, when they might just be storing the energy; when spring arrived, that energy came out in full force and propelled the rapid growth like magic. Look at this native plant Red Buckwheat.  When it was first planted in October, it was this tiny plant.  After 6 months in May, it grew quite a bit, but there was no flower yet.  Then, in the next 2-3 weeks, all of a sudden, the bush expanded by two times in size and the hot pink blossom broke out from nowhere.  It is quite a view. CA native plant growing process The blanket flower also went through the same magic. CA native plant growing process

Benefits of a Water Efficient Garden

Before this garden was installed, it was a lawn (turned brown from saving water during the drought).  Now that the new garden is fully grown, we can do a comparison.  How do they stack up?  What are the benefits of a water efficient garden? a lawn in CA drought

Saving water

To keep the lawn lush and green, it needs about 600 gallons of water a week, and even more in the extremely hot days like the ones over 90F couple weeks ago.  The garden that was installed, on the other hand, only needs about 1/6 – 1/4 as much.  This means some 1500 gallons of water can be saved in a month, enough for 3 months of indoor use for an average family in California.  The secret to this much water saving?  the plants – all are drought tolerant, and  drip irrigation system.

A Beautiful View for the House

With all the vibrant colors the garden adds a beautiful view for the house. Better yet, it changes with different seasons.  In May, it was yellow with the California Golden Poppy; in June, the hot pink from Red Buckwheat and red from blanket flower splashed the space.

Provide Food to Bees

Bees and other pollinators like the native plants, as they have been feeding on them for hundreds of thousands of years.  Look at these bees on this Golden Poppy – they just like it, even when most its flowers already faded and they can find other plants in the same garden.  Bees are hugely important for us, yet they have been on a decline.  Plant more native plants in our garden,  bees surely will appreciate it! a bee on a Golden Poppy

Santa Clara Rebate Program Open

The Santa Clara Landscape Conversion Rebate Program is still open, and you can apply for its rebate.  Take advantage of the program and plan for converting your lawn to a water efficient garden.  Find out details here. Act today, and see a water efficient garden in bloom tomorrow! a water efficient garden in bloom  

A Tale of Two California Flowers

Everywhere you go, flowers are blossoming!  In the mountains, on the plains,  around the corners of our neighborhood, they offer so much beauty and charm of the nature.  Among them, these two flowers probably catch your eyes quite a lot: the tall Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri), and the splendid, golden California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica).  Together, they are a tale of two flowers. Matilija Poppy California Poppy

Voting for the State Flower of California

In 1893, the California State Floral Society met to vote on the state flower of California.  There were 3 contenders: the Matilija Poppy, the California Poppy, and Mariposa Lily.  All native to California.

Mariposa Lily
Mariposa Lily

The result: California Poppy received all the votes except for 3, which went to Mariposa Lily.  The California Poppy was determined to be California’s state flower.  A decade later, in 1903, legislature made the title official. Here is a California Scenic Highway sign with the California Poppy. CA State Flower

Two Flowers, Great Plants for a California Friendly Garden

Both Motilija Poppy and California Poppy are beautiful California native plants that are drought tolerant, making them great choices for a water efficient garden. Matilija Poppy  is native to dry, sunny environments in Southern California and Baja California.  The flower, like a fried egg (“Fried Egg Flower”, another name of Matilija Poppy) is one of the biggest of any species native to California.  The flowers usually begin from early spring and can last until late summer. Matilija Poppy is tough and very drought tolerant, can survive in most of the soil conditions.  It can grow to be 7 feet tall and 28 feet wide.  If there are some spaces needed to be filled in the garden, the Matilija Poppy can be a good contender. In this garden, the Matilija Poppies are planted near the window.   When fully grown, they can become a shield for privacy and hot sunlight. The California Poppy is 4 to 12 inches tall.  They bloom in spring, adding their bright golden or yellow color to any garden. It is drought tolerant and easy to grow. Here, the green foliage and yellow flowers decorate the dry creek bed of this water efficient garden very nicely.

Vote on Your Favorite California Flower

Now you have a chance to vote on your favorite California flower.  These 4 flowers are all California natives. In addition to the Matilija Poppy and California Poppy introduced above, the other two are California Lilac (Cean0thus) and Lupine (Lupinus).  They are all drought tolerant plants great for a California friendly garden. Which one is your favorite?

  1. Matilija Poppy
  2. California Poppy
  3. California Lilac
  4. Lupine

California Flowers

Drinking Water: a Vital Part of Our Life

We all know how important water is to us – drinking, washing, cooking, showering, watering – all part of the things we do with it every day.  Water, and clean drinking water, is essential to all of us. For most of us, when we turn on the tap, water will flow – it comes so natural that we rarely think about where the water comes from, and how they came here. To have access to clean drinking water is central part of human activities since the ancient time.  To have such access, sometimes huge infrastructures are built over a vast territory.  The aqueducts in Roman Empire is one of the most distinguished examples.

Roman aqueduct and drinking water

According to “Roman aqueduct” in Wikipedia, “The Romans constructed numerous aqueducts in order to bring water from often distant sources into cities and towns, supplying public baths, latrines, fountains and private households…Rome‘s first aqueduct supplied a water fountain sited at the city’s cattle market. By the 3rd century AD, the city had eleven aqueducts, sustaining a population of over a million in a water-extravagant economy”. The Roman aqueduct represents one of the greatest engineering achievements in the pre-industrial era.  This is one of the 11 aqueducts in Rome, Nero aqueduct, which was built by the infamous emperor that drew water from Claudia aqueduct and sent to his own palace: Aqueduct Thanks to the aqueducts, water is available everywhere in Rome.  It is one such city that you may get around without bringing a bottled water.  These water fountains are everywhere.  They are called “Nasoni”, from the Italian “nasone” (big nose).  The water from it tastes good and is safe to drink. Drinking Water Fountain 1

California: complex water infrastructures and networks

In California, to support the big population across the state (close to 40 million as of 2015) , there are vast regional and local water systems.  In addition, huge and complex water infrastructures were built to transport water from water abundant areas, e.g., Sierra Nevada snow mountains, to where they are needed, on top of the local supply.  Some of the projects include:

  • Central Valley project, that transports water to the farmlands in central valley; and
  • State water project, that delivers water to Southern California.

In addition to surface water, underground water also plays a vital role, providing some 30-40% of the state’s total water supply, which goes much higher in dry years. When we have a sip of water from a fountain in the San Francisco Bay area, that water may come from melted snow in Sierra Nevada, and travel hundreds of miles in the vast water network before it arrives in the west coast.  It takes a lot of work and huge projects for the water to be delivered to every corner like it is today.    

Pollution: Drinking Water Problems

One of the most serious problems related to drinking water is pollution. Bottled water, and the plastics that come along with it, has become a big hazard for our water, especially our ocean and environment.  Americans used about 50 billion water bottles a year, however, only 23% were recycled, that means  77% or 38 billion bottles went into landfill, streams, rivers and eventually ocean.  There they will not dissolve, but break into smaller pieces which will be ingested by sea animals. This is not a good situation. Another big problem is the chemicals from medicines and personal care products.  After the medicines are dumped into toilet, and the shampoos and sunscreens are used and rinsed off in shower, the chemicals will go into sewage and then wastewater treatment facility.  Though water are treated at the facilities, they are not designed to treat the thousands of chemicals present, which will then be released back to the rivers and oceans.   These pollutants can be hazardous to aquatic animals. An ingredient in sunscreen can harm the coral reefs.  The oceans are so polluted now that the dolphin’s immune systems are failing. With the huge water cycle in nature, some of the chemicals make their way back and can be found even in treated drinking water, so in the end it can be harmful to our own health too. 2017-04-13-13h18m58

Improve Water Efficiency: Recycle, Reuse

Water is a precious resource needed by everyone. How can we best use such a resource?  As Felicia Marcus, Chairman of California Water Board put it:  “In Southern California and the Bay Area, we have this massive infrastructure to transport water from the mountains, use it once, and then send it out to sea. Instead, we should be capturing more rainwater, recycling it, and reusing it over and over. ” As Californians learned in the historic 5 year drought, replacing lawns with water efficient gardens can  save water significantly which helped us cope with the drought.  The next step will be to capture and store more of the rainwater, and reuse it.  Use permeable materials in the garden, harvest rain water with a rain barrel, install a rain garden: these are some of the things we can do to further improve the efficiency of our water.  

A Floral Dream Blooms In Spring

After experiencing one of the worst droughts in the state’s history from water year 2011-2016, California went to another extreme since the start of water year 2017, receiving so much rains that it became one of the wettest for the time period so far.  We know generally plants like rain, but how about the drought tolerant plants and native plants that were planted in water efficient gardens last year?  Did they survive?  How do they do after all the rains?  Recently I went back and checked on those gardens, what I saw totally blew me away.  A floral dream is blooming! floral-dream-4  

A floral dram came true

In the design phase of the garden, one plant chosen to be the anchor was Pride of Madeira (Echium), a drought tolerant plant. At 6-8 feet when fully grown, their big spikes are like flower towers in a garden.  With them in the picture, there is no chance a garden is plain or dull!  However, the Echium was just this small plant when the garden was installed.  It would take quite a while before it could grow to 6-8 feet and bloom, everyone reckoned.  “Let’s just wait, and it will come in some years.” But, as it shows, you don’t need to wait that long!  In a mere 3 months of time, during which it rained heavily, it grew from one foot to 5 foot, with 4 huge spikes of flower tower in full bloom.  It is a spectacular view.  The owner took a trip before it bloomed.  When she returned and saw those spikes, “I was so surprised! It was gorgeous!” Jan 2017 Echium Apr 2017 Echium 2 Apart from Echium, other plants also grew and bloomed beautifully. Jan 2017 Sage 1 Apr 2017 Sage 2 More flowers blossom-2 blossom-1

Rain help make floral dreams come true

While most of the drought tolerant plants are tough and can thrive in new environments, without a doubt, the heavy rains in the last winter and spring helped them grow so well as they did. One might ask, since these plants are drought tolerant, why are the rains still so important?  Yes, it is true they adapt to dry conditions and can survive in a low water environment; however, most of them would still like a certain amount of water to bloom, or bloom well.  If it was dry in the last season, they can still live, but likely not produce such splendid blossom. For plants like Echium and Seaside Daisy (the purple flower above), which originate from areas of Mediterranean climate (Canary Island and California coast), they are accustomed to rains in winter and very little to no water in summer.  They will grow rapidly in the rainy season, then go dormant or grow slowly in the dry summer season.  It is amazing how we can observe the same wonder of nature in our garden.

A beautiful view, and conserving water

In addition to providing us with a beautiful view of all the blooming flowers, water efficient gardens like this can conserve a lot of water. Compared to a lawn, such a garden can save water by 15 to 40%. Yes, with the heavy rains, California is out of the 5-year drought. However, with population growth and climate change, water the resource will just become scarcer relative to its demand.   Water conservation is a way of life in California.  By building a water efficient garden, one not only can live in such a way, but enjoy all the beautiful views from the many blossoms nature has to offer.   floral-dream-3  

California Drought Over, Water Efficient Garden a Key to Conservation

On April 7th, after one of the wettest winter seasons the state has ever seen, Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order, formally announcing the California drought over except in 4 counties: Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne.  This was a historic drought.  On this day when the drought was announced over, Californians can feel proud that they put in the effort, and met the challenge successfully. A reservoir in Northern California, at the time of the announcement: Reservoir Full of Water

California Drought, and the Drought Emergency

Before this announcement, California had endured a 5-year drought, “worst in the recorded history”. Prior to 2017, 2011 was the last year when the state’s snowpack water content went above average (165%). After it, from 2012 to 2016, water contents were way below average except 2016.  At its lowest point, in 2015, it was only 5% the normal level. CA Snowpack The same reservoir, less than a year ago: CA Reservoir Dry At the beginning of 2014, Governor Brown made the first drought emergency declaration, calling on  Californians to reduce their water usage by 20 percent.  However, water savings from this voluntary conservation effort fell far short of the target.  The savings achieved was only 9%. In April 2015, facing a drought that was not seen before in the state’s history, Governor Brown made the second emergency declaration.  This time, he made it mandatory, which was the first time, that urban water usage be reduced by 25%. This time, it worked.

Landscape Water Use Reduction Key to Achieving Goal

In the executive order, right after the 25% goal, Gov. Brown asked the state and local governments to “lead a statewide initiative…to collectively replace 50 million square feet of lawns and ornamental turf with drought tolerant landscapes.” The State Water Board’s Resolution made it clear that outdoor water usage reduction is the top priority in achieving the 25% goal: From “STATE WATER RESOURCES CONTROL BOARD RESOLUTION NO. 2015-0032”: “The current emergency regulation has supported Californians’ water conservation efforts, with over 125 billion gallons saved from August 2014 through March 2015; however, statewide water use is only nine percent less than the same months in 2013. Achieving a 25 percent reduction in use will require even greater conservation efforts across the state. In particular, many communities must dramatically reduce their outdoor water use;” “In many areas, 50 percent or more of daily water use is for lawns and outdoor landscaping. Outdoor water use is generally discretionary, and many irrigated landscapes will survive while receiving a decreased amount of water;” “Water conservation is the easiest, most efficient and most cost-effective way to quickly reduce water demand and extend supplies into the next year, providing flexibility for all California communities. ” After the mandate, Californians stepped up the effort.  Many of them stopped watering their lawns and just let them turn brown.  “Brown is the New Green” signs popped up everywhere.  The mandate was effective immediately:  water saving jumped from 13.7% in April to 29% in May, the first month the mandate was implemented. Brown is the New Green

Not Just “Brown Lawn”, But Water Efficient Garden

While a brown lawn did save water, it was far from ideal.  For one thing, it was a big eye sore for the community.  Aesthetics aside, a water efficient landscape provide these huge benefits that a brown lawn does not:

  • Provide food for bees, birds and other pollinators, which is critical for the Agriculture industry:  bees rely on pollen and nectar  to live, without enough flowers to feed on they can starve to death.  In recent years the bees’ population has been on such a serious decline, to the point some bees declared as endangered species.  Water efficient gardens, with its abundance of native plants, provide a great habitat for the bees and other pollinators, helping to stem the decline;
  • Improve soil quality and water holding capacity: water efficient gardens use native plants heavily, which are adapted to California’s dry conditions.  They have roots that tend to go very deep, which can aerate the soil, create tunnels and spaces that greatly increase the soil’s water holding capability.  This can help plants better deal with drought, and reduce the volume and force of flood in wet season.  The dead roots can add organic matters deep in the soil, adding nutrients and enhance its quality;
  • Add color and richness to the view of a house.  There are all kinds of drought tolerant plants that sport different height, structure, texture and colors; when designed well they make a lively and beautiful view, with changing colors of the season.  A water efficient garden is like a miniature nature that one can enjoy all the time from the comfort of the house.

As the executive order directed, after mandate, a statewide campaign to “replace lawns with drought tolerant landscapes” went underway.  Water agencies and companies across the state offer all kinds of rebate programs to encourage the conversion.  In most places, the program became a hit with people lining up for the application, and funds depleted in a short time. This is a turf that successfully went through conversion and received rebate. From Lawn to Water Efficient Garden

22.5%: Water Saving Achieved

2 years after the executive order, with another historic winter season, this time for deluge, the Governor announced that most of the state is out of drought. During the 2 years, the lawn to drought tolerant landscape program has successfully achieved its target and helped the state conserve water to deal with one of the worst droughts in history.

  • The water saving target in Gov. Brown’s mandate is 25%; In February, urban Californians’ monthly water conservation is 25.1%.   The cumulative statewide savings from June 2015 through February 2017 is 22.5 percent, 90% of the target.
  • The turf conversion target in the executive order is 50 million square feet of turf, or roughly 1.8 million square miles; Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) alone converted 5 square miles , 2.8 times the state’s target; Santa Clara Water District converted 8.1 million square feet from 1/1/2014 to 6/30/2016.
  • Since June 2015 to Feb 2017, 2.6 million acre-feet of water has been saved, enough to supply exceeding a third of the state’s population for a year.

CA Water Saving

“Conservation Must Remain a Way of Life”

When Governor Brown declared the drought over in most of the state, he also made it clear that “Conservation must remain a way of life”. Even though the drought is no longer in place, the groundwater and the ecosystem will take a long time to recover.  They need a constant supply of abundant water over the next decade or longer for their recovery.  With climate change and increased population, water the resource will become more scarce relative to its demand.  We must continue to conserve water.   Replacing a lawn with a water efficient garden, as experiences from this drought proved, can be a highly effectively step in achieving it.

Water conservation: how did Californians do after mandate (Part III)

How did Californians do for water conservation since the last report of Oct. and Nov. 2016 ?  In addition to the normal question of “does mandate make a difference”, another big question that comes very specifically with this winter season is : do heavy rains make a difference? From the numbers of the 3 months from 11/2016 to 1/2017,  Californians did a great job conserving water, despite of no mandate and the time period being one of the wettest ever recorded in California’s history.  Here are the numbers: In November, December and January, Californians reduced water usage by 18.3%, 20.6% and 20.5% vs. 2013.   They are very consistent at about 20% level, slightly increasing from that achieved in Sept and Oct at about 19%. ca water conservation

Remarkable Achievement

The water conservation achievement in the 3 months of 2016 winter season is very remarkable. First, it is the first time that Californians conserved more than they did in the same months of 2015.  After the statewide water reduction mandate ended in May 2016, water-savings had been less than those achieved in same months in 2015, until Dec 2016, when the water-saving turned in 13.2% higher. January was even better at 19.2%. water conservation Even more amazing is this was achieved in an unusually wet winter.   To start off, winter normally is a slow time for water conservation, witnessed by last year’s lower levels in all cold months.  To top it off, last winter was one of the wettest ever recorded.  From the Northern Sierra 8-Station Precipitation Index, in Nov, Dec and Jan, the rainfall volumes this year almost double those of the average, and more than double those of 2015 at the same points of time.  In the face of such heavy precipitation, water-savings not only did not decline, but increase slightly by 8% is truly significant. ca precipitation While many factors might contribute to this great level of water-saving, one possible reason might be that some of the habits or products people acquired during the drought period stayed, for example, taking shorter showers, using high efficiency washing machines, etc.  As a lot of lawns were converted into water efficient gardens, with rain sensors and smart controllers installed, landscape irrigation might have saved a sizable amount of water too.

CA Drought Situation

As of March 14, 2017, according to the US Drought Monitor, 77% of the state is out of drought, with only 23% in slight or moderate droughts.   This is a huge decline from last year when most of the state was in extreme or exceptional drought. ca drought

Keep Conserving Water

Even though we have had a hugely wet year, we can not lose sight about water and assume we will always have a lot of it.  During the 5 years of drought, groundwater was heavily pumped, which was so depleted that it will take many years and a huge amount of water for it to recover. With climate change and a hotter environment, consumption for water will go up while the snow storage we have been relying on will shrink down, creating a severe demand and supply situation.  It is projected that the Sierra snowpack can drop by half by the end of the century if greenhouse emissions continue at current speed, which can be disastrous for the state’s water supply. It is clear water conservation should be our way of life, whether we are in a drought or not. Limit outdoor watering, as about half of water consumed by Californians is used outdoors.  Replace the lawn with a water efficient garden – Calculate how much water you can save here. A water efficient garden will not only save water, but be beautiful as well. They can be full of California native charm, or fulfill some gardening dreams you have had for a long time.  Whichever design you choose, the water efficient garden can help us conserve water, and deal with water shortage now and in the future. water efficient garden

From a Weedy Turf to a Dream Garden

From a weedy turf to a dream garden: beforenafter Against a full wall of Camilla trees, Lucy (not her real name)’s lawn used to be green and lush.  With the drought, however, parts of the turf just went bare, with the remaining thin and weedy.  Then rains – lots of them- came, the turf just turned into this big bed of wild weeds.  Lucy had been wanting to replace it with a much nicer “dream garden”, but with her really busy schedule, she did not even have the time to think about it. Graden - Before Graden - Before After Lucy heard about the Santa Clara Landscape Conversion Rebate Program, especially the way her project will be done, i.e., all the paper work will be handled, the project will cover the entire process of design and installation, the only time she needed to be involved was the design of the garden – she happily got on board.

Landscape Conversion Program Application

To apply for the Rebate Program, a pre-inspection was scheduled.  At the end of pre-inspection, the application forms were provided.  For the application, the filled forms, along with the design of the garden were to be submitted. Rebate Program Pre-Inspection

Designing the Garden

This will be a water efficient garden, meeting all the requirements of the Rebate program, i.e., using only native or drought tolerant plants, using drip irrigation, applying mulch, etc. The next consideration was the look.  There was a wall of the camellias at the back of the front yard; in addition, two small fruit trees in the middle. The camellias were in their full blossom, sporting bright pink and red colors, against thick green leaves. It was a beautiful view.  A good design should add to the view, not take away from it. At the time of plant selection, when Lucy spotted a picture of a lavender, she cried “that is it!” A path with lavender on both sides, with its strong scent – that was something of a dream for her.  Very luckily, lavender is one of those low water-use plants that qualify for the rebate. Now she could have her dream realized! The application was submitted with the garden design.  After a week or so, the Notice to Proceed was received.  The project could kick off now.

Installing the Garden

The weeds and turf were removed, plants purchased and placed.  For mulch, it was bark chips, which came in different colors.  The mulch can effectively prevent evaporation and keep the soil moist longer.  When the chips decompose, it can add to the organic matters of the soil, improving the its quality and water holding capacity, which in turn will save more water.  Lucy chose the black color, which turned out to be a great choice. Installing a Water Efficient Garden

A Dream Garden Came True

Beautiful Water Efficient Garden The clean design and black surface from mulch make the Camilla’ colors really “pop” out.  The light step stones surrounding the two small trees in front not only provide something very functional, but accentuate the trees and add liveliness to the garden. These plants dot the garden space with colors and textures, without distracting from the main view of Camilla.  They are all drought tolerant and qualify for the Rebate program. Water Efficient Garden Water Efficient Garden While the garden already looks nice, there is more to look forward to. When the lavenders grow up and fully bloom, walking in the middle will be like walking through a purple corridor with that wonderful lavender scent.  Now that is something to wait for! Dream Garden with Lavender  

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