If it's any consolation, we're not alone when it comes to drought. Two-thirds of the west is experiencing severe drought and megadrought has now scorched southwest locales for 20 years. Climate change has turned up the heat and dryness in that area, making it the second most intense drought in 1,200 years.
Clearly, the best antidote for lessening the frequency and intensity of drought is to cool the planet. Fortunately, that's where two worlds collide: by conserving water to address drought, you automatically employ techniques that mitigate climate change.
It's like an environmental 2-for-1 sale!Many California natives and other Mediterranean climate plants thrive on little or no water once established. Photo: Marie Narlock
See how valuable those shorter showers are?
Conserving water in the garden comes in two flavors: quick and easy hacks you can do today and more involved strategies that take time but offer deep and long-term benefits.
Let's start with the easy ones.
Most gardens can survive with 20 to 40% less water. Start by gradually reducing water over a few weeks. Water slowly, deeply, and less frequently. For plants that can't cope with this regimen, hand water with a hose outfitted with a shut-off valve or replace with low-water plants. Water before 9 am or after 7 pm. Check soil moisture with a moisture meter or your finger. If it's damp a couple inches down, delay watering. Water the soil, not plant foliage.
Don't waste water.
Pretend the fluid flowing out your faucets, showerheads, tub spouts, and hoses is liquid gold. (Environmentally speaking, it is!) Re-use water for plants: save cooking water, wash produce with a pot underneath, leave a bucket in the shower, use leftover water when refreshing your pet's water bowl. Pop unused ice cubes into containers. Check for leaks indoors and out. Choose glazed pots instead of terracotta, which seeps moisture, or metal pots, which heat up and therefore demand more water. Use a broom, not a hose, to clean driveways, sidewalks, and steps. Collect rainwater, making sure to keep a lid on barrels to avoid mosquitoes.Add compost and a layer of mulch to soil to increase its ability to retain moisture and sequester carbon. Photo: Piqsels
Create a healthy, climate change-fighting sponge beneath your feet by amending soil with compost and keeping a layer of mulch on top. Organic material increases soil's ability to retain water and to sequester carbon. Mulch increases water absorption and retention, snuffs out water-hogging weeds, and regulates soil temperature. These benefits occur over time but are well worth the effort. Also, incorporate garden surfaces that allow rain and irrigation water to slow, sink, and spread into soil instead of sloshing into storm drains. Think gravel, stepping stones, and other permeable choices.
Choose water-wise plants.
When it comes to water consumption, plants come in low, medium, and high. At the highest end is lawn, which gulps water precipitously. If there's one plant to replace or reduce, make it your lawn. (Marin Water and NMWD are currently paying customers to remove their lawns.) Grow California native plants or other species that are low on water and high on ecological value. Visit the UC Marin Master Gardener website to learn about plants that need little or no water once established, plus instructions for replacing your lawn.A well-designed drip irrigation system saves water, time, money, and energy. Photo: Joby Elliott for Creative Commons
If ever there was a time to invest in irrigation infrastructure, this is it. Drip irrigation saves time, money, water, and energy. Smart sensors detect local weather and soil moisture and adjust accordingly. A programmable, well-designed drip system is like inviting a personal friend to water your garden just the right amount.
Incorporating these strategies helps you save water, prepare for the next inevitable drought, and address our most pressing environmental challenge.