Chuck Ingels, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Sacramento County, told the reporter homeowners with traditional green lawns may soon have no choice but to let them go brown. An average of 50 to 60 percent of a household's water consumption goes to outdoor use, which includes the landscape. He envisions a future in which lawns go dormant in winter and in summer, if watering is not allowed.
“The water bills are going up,” Ingels said. “I think we're going to start seeing more and more people opt for a brown lawn. I think it could become more traditional.”
If some water is available, there are less thirsty alternatives to traditional lawns that can provide a similar effect. Ingels has experimented with meadow-like buffalograss and dune sedge as alternatives. For example, UC Verde buffalograss, released in 2003, was bred for the California climate by UC researchers. It needs only infrequent mowing, uses half the water of tall fescue and is disease and pest resistant.
Other options are drought-tolerant native species like carex and bentgrass. These can be used for the meadow effect if not mowed, or mowed regularly for a more traditional look.
Reporters Julia Lurie and Alex Park gleaned data for the story from, among other sources, a post in the UC Alfalfa & Forage News Blog titled Alfalfa benefits wildlife and the environment, in addition to its economic value, written in May 2013 by Rachael Freeman Long, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Yolo County, and Daniel Putnam, UCCE specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis.
The Mother Jones article noted that alfalfa hay is a superfood of sorts for dairy cows — it's high in protein, high in energy and it's digestible.
"When you feed alfalfa, you produce more milk," Putnam and Long wrote in the blog post. "That's the bottom line. The next time you have pizza (with cheese), milk on your cereal, or ice cream, thank alfalfa."
The Mother Jones' info-graphic says it takes 683 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk.
The Visalia Times-Delta reported that UC Cooperative Extension was one of the organizations represented at a meeting about the potential merger last Friday, which also included Kaweah Delta Healthcare District, Pixley-based Be Healthy Tulare and United Way of Tulare County.
“I guess one of my fears is there is an inherent distrust of Fresno,” the story quoted Cathi Lamp, nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor for UCCE in Tulare County and a former FoodLink board member. Lamp said she is concerned the merged food bank would be based in Fresno County, and Tulare County's needs might be ignored.
Julie Cates, UCCE nutrition program coordinator, told me FoodLink of Tulare County has long focused on distributing quality, nutrient dense products and partnering with agencies, such as UCCE, to provide nutrition education.
"We were able to have our teachers at the school receiving the 'farmers market' write testimonial emails and one teacher submitted letters from the fourth-grade students," Cates said. "I am very pleased with this outcome, as it illustrates how the food distributions are migrating from the inner to outer circles of the social ecological model in which we are striving to serve, reflecting universal behavior change."
View a one-minute video about one of the collaborative projects conducted by FoodLink of Tulare County and UCCE Tulare County:
“A single lawn sprinkler can use as much water as taking a shower,” Ingels said. “Many people don't even know where their (sprinkler) controller is. They are often hidden behind boxes or bicycles in the garage.”
The press conference was held jointly by the California Department of Water Resources, UC Cooperative Extension and UC Davis. The speakers noted that every drop of water saved by not watering already moist lawns will ensure there's more water when warmer months arrive. As part of the event, Ingels demonstrated a simple test to determine lawn moisture.
He easily pushed a flat-head screwdriver into the lawn up to its handle, indicating the soil beneath the surface is moist. If it doesn't sink in all the way or needs pressure, the lawn may need water.
In the coming months, there are many more strategies that can be employed to make the most efficient use of water placed on landscapes, which represents more than half of home water use.
- Determine your home sprinklers' output by conducting a catch can test
- Program the controller to deliver water in short increments broken up with time for the water to soak into the ground
- Use drip irrigation for plants and trees
- Cover the soil with mulch to reduce evaporation from the soil surface
Read more here: Conserve water with proven landscape irrigation strategies
Additional home and ag water conservation resources are available from the UC California Institute for Water Resources, http://ucanr.edu/drought.
Many of these farmers use groundwater to irrigate their orchards, and groundwater in the Sacramento Valley is in pretty good shape, said Joe Connell, UC Cooperative Extension advisor and county director in Butte County.
If groundwater levels drop, growers will be pumping from farther down. So far, things look like they will be OK for orchard crops, Connell said. The supply of bees was adequate and before the rains, there was time for bees to pollinate.
The outlook isn't quite as rosy for rice farmers in the area, Randall "Cass" Mutters, UCCE advisor in Butte County, told the reporter.
"The buzz is that everyone is waiting on what the allotment will be," Mutters said. "No one will know until April 1."
However, recent rains were just a dribble compared to normal for this time of year. The Department of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation have said surface water deliveries will be very low or nonexistent for growers.
The article concluded with a link to the UC California Institute for Water Resources drought page and a list of the resources available there to farmers, homeowners and the media.