by Alan Day
Wonderful! The series of storms last week in Northern California, with the snowfall and steady soaking rains, was absolutely wonderful. You could almost hear the ground drinking it in.
But the drought is far from over. Much like other water districts, here in El Dorado County at the El Dorado Irrigation District we have declared an emergency and are at a Stage 2 drought warning. Currently we are asking all our customers (homeowners, businesses, institutional and agricultural) to voluntarily find ways to reduce water consumption by 30 percent.
We’ll be measuring this systemwide from the outflow of our water treatment facilities. At this point we won’t be going door-to-door checking up on individuals; it’s on the honor system.
I’m hoping that everyone pulls together to save water and to encourage their friends, neighbors and employers to save water. We need to see a dramatic reduction in water use to save as much as possible for this summer and beyond.
If we see those reductions we can keep things on a voluntary basis. Failing that, and with continuing drought, the EID board might be forced to look at mandatory restrictions and/or rate surcharges. Both of which, as board president, I would like to avoid if at all possible.
Can we reduce our consumption of water that much? I believe so. If you are already conserving a lot, great — please try to find a couple more ways to save; if not trying too hard, then please get busy. It’s not as hard as it may seem. Go to EID’s Website (EID.org) for great tips on how to find water savings.
In particular, reducing water use by 30 percent is readily achievable for many, given that outdoor irrigation can account for 40-60 percent of a typical residential customer’s water use.
So please, go turn your outdoor irrigation off for awhile.
And keep it off for as long as possible. Personally, since we had that nice soaking rain, I’m going to keep our outdoor irrigation system off for several weeks, well into March if at all possible. Yes, really, several weeks (or more if we get any more rain).
The nights are cool, the days relatively short, so there is very little evaporation and little plant growth activity this time of year. Even in the recent dry days of January this was true.
Unfortunately, many folks watered too much in January. EID’s data showed that, and I’ve talked with people who told me they were watering three days a week, every other day, or a few who were watering every day. Some were dumping a bunch of water on their freeze damaged/dormant lawns and plants ‘cause they looked brown and dry. Unfortunately, most of that water did not help the plants and was just lost to us for good.
When you do start irrigating again do so gradually. The single best irrigation practice is to water deeply, but as infrequently as possible. This means multiple short cycles, all in the same day, to soak the water in while avoiding runoff. Then not watering for several days, a week, or more. If you can get the water down deeper, your plant roots will grow deeper as well where water and roots both stay cooler with much less evaporation. Even if the surface dries out the moisture is still down there keeping the plants cool, hydrated and happy.
Having or putting a good layer of organic matter over the soil and roots will help a great deal as well. A couple inches of mulch, bark or even a light layer of leaves (much like in nature) really makes a big difference in moisture retention.
We need to save every drop of water we can, there is no telling if or when the drought will ease up. Last week’s storms were wonderful, but we need five or six more big ones like it to make a real dent. Hopefully, colder storms, too, to help with the snowpack. But time is not on our side.
Please join me in finding ways to save water, and in particular turn your outdoor irrigation system off for as long as possible. If you are unsure how long to keep it off there are inexpensive moisture sensors that you can get to test your soil from time to time; or, be an old school gardener like me and test the soil with your finger!
Alan Day is EID board president and represents District 5 in El Dorado Hills; owner of a landscape business; and a former UC Master Gardener.