by Charlene Burgi
Rumor has it that we are in for an El Niño winter. I am not certain what that means since every report comes up with various predictions that span from getting drenched to mild inclement weather to continued drought.
Predictions are something to approach with a discerning ear. The fall/winter season would be better met with preparedness. Preparedness comes with paying attention to the indicators that surround us and acting prior to an event.
For example, a friend reported attending the Ready Marin program. When the earthquake struck in the wee hours this past Sunday, she was prepared with flashlights and necessary tools at hand (if needed) to turn off gas and water supplies. Yet others reported they woke up in a half stupor and attempted to collect their thoughts as to where they would even find a flashlight.
This week the news reported a water main break in San Francisco. One gentleman was capturing this precious commodity by the bucketful before it disappeared into the cavernous storm drain. He was prepared with whatever collection method he could find and conserved as much as he could.
Conserving water is more than turning the faucet off while brushing your teeth and exchanging high-water-use for high-efficiency fixtures in the house. It is more than switching to a smart controller or adjusting your controller to reflect the current ET loss for the week. These steps are extremely important for saving the water in our reservoirs, but by being prepared and making the best use of the water sources at hand we can conserve even more.
Each winter we anticipate rainfall, but are we prepared to utilize the falling rain? If we live on any kind of slope, we can create multiple bioswales running across the length of the slope to slow down the runoff. A bioswale requires some trenching, compacting the lower edge of the bioswale for erosion, and backfilling with porous material, such as bark. Planting two of my favorite deep-rooted shrubs—Pacific ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus) and red osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera)—will help penetrate the clay soils above the swale and move the water deeper than the trenched bioswale.
Another idea is to collect the water from the downspout into trenches to carry water to a rain garden or meadow at least 10 feet away from the house foundation. Choose plant material that will thrive on the abundant rainwater that will collect there in the winter. Use rain garden plants such as Aster novae-anglaie or Lobelia cardinalis that attract butterflies and bees and provide nectar in the summer months.
Try designing a dry creek bed to capture the precious liquid from our rains. Wind the bed through the garden to deliver water to your trees or shrubs along the way. Tuck native grasses and wildflowers along the edges or plant some color into the dry creek bed. This task requires preparing now for winter.
These suggestions will take more than a shovel and wheel barrow. It will take planning and a list of equipment as follows:
- Soil, sand, clay, organic mulch
- Building materials and construction (if built)
- Organic compost
- Tools (tractor, rakes, shovels, gloves, etc.)
- Vegetation (seeds, plants, trees)
- Gravel, rocks (large and small)
Are you prepared for the task at hand or will you watch the precious wet stuff disappear into the local storm drain this winter?
It is Labor Day weekend. Why not take a ride to the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed and glean ideas for imitating nature in your own garden?