21 March 2015

Carbon Canyon Water-wise Garden

Today being the first day of Spring and seeing that our continuing severe drought, now in its fourth year, raises essential questions about California's water supply and use, it seemed an appropriate time to discuss one of the hidden treasures of Carbon Canyon: a water-wise garden just off Carbon Canyon Road at Canon Lane.

Situated on a narrow stretch of land between the state highway, Fire Station 64, and the Western Hills Country Club, the garden's entrance is off Canon Lane and decomposed granite foot paths wind and wend their way for about one-eighth of a mile to the east.

Alongside the paths are dozens of grasses, bushes, and shrubs that are drought-tolerant.  Many of these make for great hedges and screens or as ground cover and are flowering and are just starting to burst into flower as Spring debuts.  Among the varieties found in the garden are blue fescue grass, wild lilac, prickly pear cactus, lavender, rosemary, oleander, myrtle, and white rockrose.

Several types of trees provide abundant shade and have interesting textures and colors to bring variety to the landscape.  Among those in the garden are peppers, sycamores and coast live oaks.

Sure, there are some cacti, but even some of these have flowers and others, like the prickly pear, can be used as food, but the vast majority of the plant life in the garden provide a variety of color, texture and sizing to provide diversity for any landscape environment.

Besides, it's going to be a necessity, provided our drought conditions persist for long period, as many climatologists are predicting, for people in our region to rethink their landscapes.

Thirsty lawns, pools and hot tubs and other water-guzzling elements will have to be replaced by those more sensitive to our semi-arid desert conditions and the drought.

More than a century of assumptions about what is considered "normal" rainfall (those standards being established in the late 19th-century when rainfall was above what we now know to be long-term historic patterns), delusions that exported water could provide us a permanent and abundant supply, and behavior that encouraged waste, such as planting alfalfa, nuts and other water-intensive crops (many of which are exported anyway), we have to come to terms that our sense of "normal" is, in fact, "abnormal."

The problem, as with any large-scale transformation, is that it takes significant time and resources (monetary and human) to implement systemic change.  And, this is in the best of scenarios when there is consensus about the existence of the problem and what to do about it.

In the case of water in a state as big, diverse and populous as California, we've been very slow to make the needed adjustments to changing conditions.

This was taken by my younger son .

Time, however, is not on our side at this point.  We have one or, perhaps, two years of reliable supply left for most of the state and some places have already run out of enough water to sustain activities, including the beautiful Central Coast town of Cambria.  Santa Barbara is readying to reactive a desalination plant that was built and never used--but its cost and inefficiency are of concern.

While 80% of the state's water use is in agriculture (again, much of it for high-water use crops) and residential conservation is not the most pressing need, there is still much people can do to reduce their water use, 70% of which goes to landscaping.

The Carbon Canyon water-wise garden offers an impressive array of plants that, for the most part, are easy to find and can go a long way to reduce water use.  As we lurch towards more severe rationing during a drought that could well extend into decades, the need to save water becomes more pressing.

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