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Natural Perspectives: Do your part to solve water crisis

January 26, 2011|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
  • The new landscaping at United Community Methodist Church uses a mix of California native plants and other drought-tolerant species, plus a water-collecting hardscape of gravel, river rock and pavers to simulate a stream.
The new landscaping at United Community Methodist Church… (HB Independent )

Last fall, the weather experts predicted that we would have a La Niña winter this year. That meant it would be relatively dry. Then in December, the sky dumped half our annual rainfall on us all at once. Vic and I began to doubt the La Niña forecasts. But now with about a half an inch of rain for January and none forecasted for the immediate future, things really are looking dry.

La Niña generally means rain in the Southern Hemisphere. Right now, it's raining dingoes and Tasmanian tigers in Australia. Well, not quite. The Tasmanian tiger went extinct in the 1930s. But you get the idea.

Last month, Queensland experienced its wettest December on record, and last year was the third wettest year for Australia as a whole. Not coincidently, the ocean off Queensland was the warmest that it has ever been. Warm oceans generally mean more rainfall along the coast.

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One consequence of La Niña is a dry winter for us in the Americas. Vic and I set up a system of rain barrels last fall to store water. In addition to the rain barrels, we set some 20-gallon Rubbermaid trash containers under eaves to catch even more rainfall. Our water storage system filled up with the first few days of rain in early December. The rest overflowed onto the ground, lost to our future use. I'll be dipping into those containers to water my vegetable garden and fruit trees over the next few months, assuming the water lasts that long.

We don't have an automatic irrigation system. Instead, we have a "smart manual system." It's really very simple. I check the soil to see if it's dry. If it is, I add water. Pretty smart.

Unfortunately, some people set their automatic sprinklers with a timer and ignore the system after that. They ignore the weather, too. Some homes have sprinklers on while it is raining! What a waste of water.

If you have an automatic sprinkler system, turn it off for the winter. Plants don't need nearly as much water now as when they're actively growing during the spring and summer. Because there are fewer daylight hours in the winter, plants are less active and need less water.

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